Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Communist Columbus

Today, 45 years ago, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, 27 years of age, stunned the world by becoming the first man in space. Everybody, himself included, knew that his chance of coming back to earth alive was a mere 50 %.

In his spaceship Vostok 1, Senior Lieutenant Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin orbited earth once at an altitude of 302 kilometers for 108 minutes at 18,000 miles an hour. He was the first man to see that the earth was, indeed, round, indeed, mostly water, and, indeed, magnificent.

Yuri Gagarin, the son of a collective farmer, had joined the Soviet Cosmonaut Corps in 1959. After his historic flight, he became head of the Cosmonauts' team. He died in 1968 at age 34 in an accident during a routine flight with a MIG-15.

In July of 1971, the Astronauts of the Apollo 15 flight left behind on the moon a plaque in the memory of the 14 men, Russian and American, who had died leading mankind into space. In honour of his great contributions to space exploration and thus mankind's progress, a crater on the moon was named after Yuri Gagarin.

He is one of my heroes. Without men like him, their courage, their will to get on, their curiosity and their disregard for their own life and safety, we would be still be living in caves.

(I have posted, too, about Dr. Werner Forssmann and Hermann Buhl, two other heroes of mine and for very similar reasons.)