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This Sunday will mark the 43rd anniversary of the death of one of my heroes –one of the bravest men of the 20th century– Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
Here’s a rare pic of Gagarin with Fidel Castro:
In 1968, he was killed at the age of 34 in a mysterious airplane crash, but not before performing a feat so terrifying it would stultify most other people. Atop a ballistic missile 7 years earlier, he had been hurtled into Earth orbit, an environment whose hostility and survivability had been a total unknown at the time. He never lived to see men walk on the moon, a mere 8 years after he pioneered our entry into outer space.
What few realize is that the USA was only months away from putting their own man in space (he ended up being Alan Shepard Jr) and were shocked to have been scooped by the USSR. But it’s important to note that the Americans were, at that point, unable to put a man into orbit; Shepard’s flight had been suborbital, straight up and down. Gagarin, on the other hand, soared around the world in awe and astonishment.
To their credit, and near the height of the Cold War space race, NASA presented the Soviets with a plaque commemorating Gagarin’s feat:
Mind you, there was never a video taken of Gagarin’s historic flight. We don’t know what he saw. Until now. The crew of the International Space Station will recreate Gagarin’s trajectory to create a Youtube clip for all the world to experience. Linger on this magnificent photo of an astronaut observing the Earth through the ISS’s window:
Much of the world, dominated as it is by American media, has forgotten Yuri Gagarin. Every year I ask my students who the fellow on my T-shirt is, and few (if any) ever know, even though his name is emblazoned in large type below his head (not visible in the following photo):
I think it’s about time someone made a feature film about the first flight of Yuri Gagarin, one of the bravest men of the 20th century.