Next year April 12th 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s, mankind’s, first steps into space. It was a product of the accumulated technology of many countries over many years but particularly driven by the the political landscape resulting from the 2nd world war. Since then successful robotic missions have visited the planets, asteroids and comets. 24 men have gone to the moon and a dozen have even walked on its surface.
Subsequent achievements have fallen short of the expectations raised in the wake of Gagarin’s flight. Gagarin himself spoke openly about his desire to go to the moon and Mars. That sounds like a pipe dream now but back in 1961, he was absolutely serious and realistic.
So what happened? Had the space race been won when Neil and Buzz landed on the Moon? Had the motivation borne out of political rivalries of the cold war finally been exhausted? Perhaps, the problems closer at home of poverty, population growth, environmental concerns raced to the top of the political agenda and forced governments into a pragmatic reconsideration on how they spent their cash?
Big questions. Too big for this episode where Dr Chris Welch from Kingston University provides a brief outline of the current status of the Space policy here in the UK. Dr Welch also happens to be the chair of the of the recently launched YuriGagarin50 group which has amongst its aims:
Stimulate celebration and recognition of the global significance of Gagarin and his flight – ‘the first person in space, the first person to see the Earth as a planet’.
After his flight Yuri Gagarin embarked on a world tour which included a 4 day visit to the UK which surprisingly included a visit to Manchester on 12th July 1961. By chance, Gagarin’s first job was as a moulder in a foundry in Moscow. He came to the UK and Manchester at the invitation of the Manchester based Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers. I will be producing another episode focusing on Gagarin’s UK visit next year. Did you see Gagarin in July 1961? Do you know someone who did? Share your memories. Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With many months to go to next year’s 50th anniversary, there are several events already being planned to celebrate mankind’s first steps in to space. Keep an eye on the events calendar at www.yurigagarin50.org
The quote for this episode is from the Soviet government in 1961 following Gagarin’s success in Vostok 1. Perhaps they were deliberately winding up the Americans but there is something warm and reassuring to see a couple of familiar words in the quote “all mankind” that are on the plaque left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts. A 1961 official Soviet Government and Communist Party announcement said.
“We regard these victories in the conquest of outer space not only as the achievement of our people but as an achievement of all mankind”
A video version of this podcast is available on Vimeo here.