Yuri Gagarin & Cosmonautics Day
Yuri Gagarin the First Man in Space
On April 12th of 1961, one man has broken the barriers between our reality and the fantasy world. Aboard the spacecraft “Vostok 1”, he said: “Poehali” (Let’s go) and was launched into the unknown, the mysterious world of outer space. He knew the risks and that this could’ve been the last journey of his life, but that didn’t stop him, he had to do it for his country. This man’s name was Yuri Gagarin and he was only 27 years old. His flight took 108 minutes, he made 1 orbit of the earth and came back alive to talk about it.
Within hours Yuri Gagarin became a national superhero of the Soviet Union and a worldwide celebrity. He was invited to different countries to share his experience. Everyone wanted to see & speak to the first man in space. Yuri’s natural charm and friendly smile melted people’s hearts. He became an Unofficial Ambassador of USSR and was sincerely and happily welcomed, by people from different parts of the world.
Gagarin’s Legacy Through the Eyes of a Local
I was born in 1980, 19 years after Gagarin’s flight, but his smiling face and his name I remember from childhood. As a child, I fantasized about being a Cosmonaut (that’s a Russian version of an Astronaut), I’m absolutely positive that other kids my age felt the same way. We all knew Yuri Gagarin to be a national hero, we all heard what an amazing person he was, we felt immense pride that he was Russian, and we all wanted to strive to be like him.
Photo from: https://interesnyefakty.org
Cosmonautics Day / International Day of Human Spaceflight
The day that Yuri Gagarin completed the first human journey into space became known & celebrated in Russia as a Cosmonautics Day. In 2011, the General Assembly of United Nations created a Resolution that declared April 12th an International Day of Human Spaceflight. As an interesting side fact: the first American Space Shuttle flew into outer space on the twentieth anniversary of Gagarin’s flight.
Annually, Cosmonautics Day is celebrated all over the world under the name of Yuri’s Night. It commemorates the first USSR manned flight & the first USA Space Shuttle flight. The festivities take place in various forms, from dance parties to lectures, local pub crawls, etc. The main idea behind these events is a fun space-themed environment that promotes educational elements on the importance of space programs, to keep young generations and non-scientists interested in exploring the matter. The best part is that anyone can organize a Yuri’s Night event.
You might have heard about the Space Race between USSR & USA. It began during Cold War tensions and was essentially a competition between Communism & Capitalism, with each side trying to protect itself from the potential attack of the other through the development of technology and machinery for Space Exploration. That race contributed significantly to placing the first man in outer space.
Sergei Korolev the Genius Behind the USSR Space Program
One man who’s worth mentioning who wasn’t known during the time of the Space Race & the beginning of space exploration; but who deserved just as much credit as Gagarin did, was Sergei Korolev. He was a genius in his days and is considered to be the father of practical cosmonautics (astronautics). He was a Chief Designer and the main driving force behind the Space Rocket program, the program that he made the mission of his life. Unfortunately, due to the secrecy of the space program, his personality and his efforts were kept in secret and his accomplishments became publicly known only after his death.
Photo from: https://en.wikipedia.org
Gagarin’s Smile Engraved in People’s Minds
There were many other people who contributed their efforts to the first flight into outer space. There were many people that came after Yuri Gagarin, but the smile of the first cosmonaut is engraved in people’s minds. The fame didn’t ruin him, he stayed a nice guy like he was before that.
VDNKh for Space Enthusiasts
If you’re coming to Moscow and you’re a Space enthusiast, there is an area in Moscow that you definitely shouldn’t miss. At the Metro station named VDNKh, you will be pleasantly surprised to find two Space museums. The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics is located right at the exit of the VDNKh station, at the base of the monument to the Conquerors of Space and the Alley of Cosmonauts. It opened in 1981 and is rumored to have about 85000 items in its collection.
Cosmos (Space) Museum
The second museum is located in the heart of the historic VDNKh park, which during the USSR era was considered to be the Garden City of the bright future. That was a grand fantasy that was promised to the common people: workers and farmers, to inspire them to work harder & better for the communal benefit. The Cosmonautics and Aviation Centre (Pavilion #34), simply known as Cosmos (Space) Pavilion by Muscovites, is placed right in front of the full-scale model of the spacecraft “Vostok 1”, in which Yuri Gagarin made his journey. This museum is considered to be one of the biggest space museums in Russia. Inside, you’ll be able to find out what kind of food Cosmonauts eat these days, try out cradle seat which they use at the beginning & the end of their space journey, try on a space glove to see how it feels to work in outer space and check out the changes in the spacesuit fashion from the USSR era up to now. If you are a big fan of Outer Space or of old Soviet architecture, you will love this museum.
History of Cosmos Pavilion: Transformations, First Rave Party, Back to Glory Days
The Cosmos Pavilion has a lot of history of its own, it went through various transformations & was used for different purposes. It was originally built in 1939 for the exposition of the Mechanization and Electrification of Agriculture in the USSR. In 1967 it became a Space Museum.
In 1991 the first in Moscow Rave party took place in this museum, it was organized in collaboration by Moscow’s businessmen, along with artists & musicians from St. Petersburg. It was called Gagarin’s party and had real cosmonauts present among the guests. This event began the movement of nightclub culture in Moscow. That night 3000 people attended the party, the line of people wanting to get into this event was mentioned to have spread from the park entrance all the way to the Pavilion, which is about a 15-minute walk.
Later, this Pavilion was used as a retail market for many years until it was renovated and reopened in 2018 as the Cosmos museum once again, which made the locals happy that our cultural heritage is being resurrected and displayed with pride.
Photo from: https://mixmag/io
VDNKh Park – Local’s Childhood Memories
My grandparents always lived in the VDNKh area, as a kid I remember being held by the hand and being led into something grand. I was being led through the great gates into a different world. This world was always filled with people dressed in their best clothes. The kids would walk around holding a balloon and if they got especially lucky, in their other hand they would be holding a treat, which could be either of the following: a cotton candy, a rooster on a stick (lollipop) or the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my life, called Plombir. If you want to feel like a happy Soviet Child, come to our Moscow Off the Beaten Path tour and try with us Soviet Ice cream with the old traditional recipe.
Photo of “plombir” from: https://ru.m.wikipedia.org
The stroll along VDNKh park was always associated with something special. It was always sunny and there was a festive atmosphere in the air, and the majority of people seemed happy to me, at least while I was a kid. I remember a very long walk along the main street of the park, towards the airplane and the space rocket. I have really good feelings whenever I recover these memories. At that time, I never could’ve imagined that one day I will be able to become a part of it, as one of the employees of the historical space museum, happily walking the same route on my way to work.
Visit Space Museums, Remember Our Heroes
To conclude my story, Yuri Gagarin was a great man that commanded respect with his sincere and charming way. It’s nice to have heroes who inspire us to be courageous and to be good people. The heroism and legacy of Gagarin and other cosmonauts, the dedication & work of all the people involved in the Space program, should be remembered and shared with new generations.
So, if you’re in Moscow and love history and space exploration, come to VDNKh park and check out the Cosmos Pavilion, you will love it.
- Yuri Gagarin was once invited to have breakfast with Queen Elizabeth II in England. There were too many utensils and Yuri didn’t know which one to use, and honestly admitted that to the Queen. She told him don’t worry, sometimes I get confused as well.
- Did you know that before Yuri Gagarin, a USSR satellite Sputnik was sent into outer space, followed by various species of animals and living organisms? Belka & Strelka were two cosmonaut dogs that became famous all over the world. Strelka, later on, had puppies and one of them named Pushinka was given to Jacqueline Kennedy as a gift.
- Without satellites in outer space, it would be impossible to make long-distance phone calls. The Internet would stop working in remote areas and there would be no navigation systems that we are so accustomed to in our everyday lives.
- There are 3 Cosmos venues (in Russian Kosmos) located in the VDNKh area: Kosmos Movie Theater, Kosmos Hotel, and the Kosmos museum.
If you are a huge fan of Yuri Gagarin there is a company named “Made In Dance” that created a set of T-shirts dedicated to the legendary Rave party in the Cosmos Pavilion in the 90s, you could get one at Vinzavod area in Moscow. You could either get to that area on your own or you could get there with one of our ExploRussia guides on our Made-in Moscow Arts Shopping tour.
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by Yulia Kostroma, local guide