Yuri Gagarin will be aboard the Roscosmos State Corporation craft slated to carry cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams to the International Space Station this Friday, March 18. The first man in space will not be a passenger in the traditional sense, he died in 1968 while conducting a test run of an MiG-15UTI fighter jet. Instead, he’ll be there in spirit, as a logo painted on the launch shroud that will shield the Soyuz TMA-20M on its way to the ISS.
The inclusion of the logo is part of Roscosmos State Corporation [also known as the FKA or RKA] celebration of fifty-five years of manned space flight. According to CollectSpace, a website for space history enthusiasts, the agency has declared 2016 to be the “Year of Yuri Gagarin.” Throughout 2016, the RKA has planned events and exhibitions to celebrate Russia’s role in space travel and Yuri Gagarin’s place as the pioneer to who took that first step.
Last month, in an announcement of the year of Gagarin, a spokesperson for the RKA made the invitation to everyone who shares the dream of space exploration.
“To commemorate this milestone in human history, Roscosmos proclaims 2016 to be the Year of Yuri Gagarin and plans a number of interesting events.We invite all those who are interested in space, dream of distant planets and for who Russia’s space activities are a part of life to join us. Let’s remember together how it was and dream about the future — because it is just the beginning!”
Friday’s launch will take place at the same Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan, the site of the Yuri Gagarin’s takeoff in Vostok-1. The location is both symbolic and functional. The RKA and by extension, the Russian government have a lease on the site from Kazakhstan until 2050. This relates to another significant milestone in the history of Russia’s space program.
Later this year, Russia will launch its first rocket carrier from Vostochny Cosmodrome. Construction of the new space center in the East Amur region is nearly complete, and further development of the location means lessening dependence on other countries for base locations. In a press conference announcing the new mission center, an RKA spokesperson stressed the agency intended to honor agreements with other government space programs. They went on to stress that the spirit of cooperation would always be a key component in the RKA’s mission.
The inclusion of the Yuri Gagarin logo is one of the more visible ways the RKA is remembering the cosmonaut, but it is not actually the first event to celebrate the “Year of Gagarin.” A video feed from the ISS Expedition 46 featured cosmonauts holding up a sign in Cyrillic that read, “Gagarin. Lift-off!”
Yuri Malenchenko, who is among the personnel still at the International Space Station, will be the first to welcome the crew of Expedition 47. Like his former crewmates, RKA cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who have since returned to earth after spending 340 days at ISS, Malenchenko is happy to pay homage to the cosmonaut who paved the way for future explorers.
“Our new motto is ‘Lift Your Head Up!’ because every time we look up, we can see the stars.”
Yuri Gagarin would have been 82 on March 9. Accounts by contemporaries cited in the Wikipedia entry told the story of an intelligent, imaginative, and yet modest man who was viewed by the selection committee as not only a good candidate for space travel, but an excellent ambassador for the burgeoning field of exploration as it was in the mid-twentieth century. On the ground he was reportedly well-liked by his peers. Gagarin was a sports fan who was keen on hockey and played goalie when he had the time.
His family history informed him of his place in history. His home was taken over by the Nazis and the Gagarin family was force to live in a mud hut behind the family farmhouse during the occupation. Some family members were sent to work camps in Poland and never returned. Yuri Gagarin saw the darker extremes of humanity and how fragile peace can be, yet he never sight of how he could use his own gifts to help heal his country and make the world a better place.
During his one hundred and ten minutes in orbit he saw home, not as boundaries or political affiliations, but as one world.
[Photo by Keystone/Getty Images]