Yuri Gagarin comes to London
05 April 2011
A statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, will be unveiled on the Mall, opposite the statue of Captain Cook and outside the British Council offices headquarters, on Thursday 14 July 2011, to mark the 50th Anniversary of Manned Space Flight.
The statue is a gift from the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) to the British Council. It will be installed on the Mall for a period of 12 months.
Vitaly Davydov, State Secretary and Deputy Head, Russian Space Agency commented on the statue coming to London: "Gagarin belongs not only to Russia but to all countries and nations, and it’s important to us that the statue of Yuri Gagarin will be shown in London - one of the world’s most international and intercultural cities - to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight. Russia and the UK have much in common, not only as allies during the Second World War, and victory gained through sacrifice - but as nations which have always been eager to travel to the unknown, and to discover new space; Gagarin symbolises this aspiration. And I believe that it is very important for us to combine our efforts – intellectual, cultural, logistical, and practical - to create a better planet for future generations everywhere."
Vernon Ellis, Chair of the British Council commented: “The unveiling of the statue of Yuri Gagarin in July so close to Trafalgar Square will be a wonderful moment. I remember the excitement in 1961 when we heard that Gagarin had successfully orbited the earth. Everyone was moved by the sheer bravery and adventure of his flight and through this statue we celebrate both that break-through for mankind, and the UK-Russian relationship.
“The statue’s arrival in London reinforces the strong cultural and scientific ties that bind the UK and Russia together and is the culmination of a year of planning by Roscosmos and the British Council. It is just one example of the British Council’s ongoing work to strengthen the relationship with Russia through education, English and the arts.”
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, who visited Moscow in February for the signing of the joint statement on the UK Russia Year of Space, said: “We have a strong record of collaboration with Russia in space science. This statue is a particularly fitting emblem of both that history and the commitment to future work put in place through the UK Russia Year of Space, and I’m delighted it is coming to London.”
The statue is an exhibition copy of the statue commissioned in 1984 by the small town of Lubertsy, just outside Moscow, where Gagarin trained as a foundry worker from the ages of 15-16. Made by Anatoly Novikov, one of the chief sculptors of the Stalingrad Memorial (now the Volgograd Memorial), the sculpture was commissioned to commemorate Gagarin’s 50th birthday (he died in a plane crash aged 34), and is today a site of pilgrimage for cosmonauts before they travel into space.
The statue will be formally unveiled by the cosmonaut’s daughter, Elena Gagarina, now Director of the Kremlin Museums. Others attending the ceremony include Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space and a close friend of Gagarin’s; Sergei Krikalev, the cosmonaut-Director of Star City; and Natalia Koroleva, daughter of Sergei Korolev, the ‘Chief Designer’ of the Soviet space programme, and the man responsible for many space firsts: the first artificial satellite (sputnik) to be launched, the first man in space, the first space walk, the first woman in space, and the first lunar probe.
Yuri Gagarin was 27 when he journeyed into space on board Vostok 1. His space capsule travelled at a speed of 27.400 kms per hour, and orbited the earth in 108 minutes. On landing, he became the most famous man on earth. This statue, showing a life-sized Gagarin standing on a globe in his space suit, focuses on the human aspect of the extraordinary scientific innovations that lie behind the Russian space programme.
The site for the statue on the Mall has been chosen to reflect the nature of Gagarin’s achievement, as well as the history of his visit to London. It will stand opposite the statue of Captain Cook, whose explorations created a new understanding of the planet, and on whose pedestal are inscribed the words’ the circumnavigator of the globe’. It also stands in the shadow of Admiralty House, where Gagarin was formally welcomed to London by the then Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, and from where he was driven to have lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
In addition to the statue, the British Council will be showing an exhibition in its headquarters on the life of Gagarin and the early Soviet space programme. This will include rare photographs lent by the Gagarin family, Soviet posters from the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics; a film made by Roscosmos showing original footage of the early training programme and the 1961 launch itself; books by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the ‘father of the Russian space programme’, from the Kaluga Space Museum. Also included are some extremely rare space items from the Vostok programme: the first space suit – SK-1 including the padded inner lining, blue rubberised pressure –suit and outer orange layer; and an ejector seat of the model used by Gagarin when he parachuted out of Vostok 1 at an altitude of 7 km. As there are no items from the early Soviet space programme on view in the UK, this is an exceptional opportunity to see space items which marked the launch of man’s venture into space.
Biography of Yuri Gagarin
Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin was born on 9 March in the small village of Klushino, in Smolensk, Russia’s westernmost province. His father was a carpenter, his mother a dairymaid. Both worked on the local collective farm.
He started school aged 7, but the Germany army invaded Russia the same year, capturing Klushino and forcing the Gagarin family out of their house. The family experienced three years of extreme hardship. They lived in a dugout in the garden; the schools were closed; there was little to eat; and Gagarin’s two older siblings were taken to work in labour camps in Poland. When the Red Army liberated the village in 1944, Yuri went back to school but decided he wanted to continue studying rather than stay in the countryside, and went to live with relatives in Moscow so that he could enter high school. Without the necessary years of schooling, he couldn’t enrol in an academic school, so he attended a vocational school in Lubertsy, attached to a steel works, and started training as a foundry man.
With exceptionally good grades from Lubertsy, he went on to train as a caster-moulder for four years at Saratov Industrial School. This is where his love of flying began. He joined the Saratov Aero Club where he spent his spare time and learned to fly light aircraft. The first plane he flew was the YAK-18. Graduating age 20, he was recommended for the Orenburg Military Aviation School, joining the Soviet Air Force as a pilot in 1956. It was at Orenburg that he met Valentina Goryacheva, a student nurse at the base. They married the following year.
On 4 October 1957, the Soviets launched sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite. Its success encouraged a rapid acceleration of Soviet space firsts: the first dog in space (Laika); the first probe to impact the moon; the first images of the moon’s far side; the first animals to safely return from earth’s orbit (Belka and Strelka); the first probe launched to Venus. Sergei Korolev, the ‘Chief Designer’ and presiding genius of the Soviet space programme, began his search for the first cohort of men to train as cosmonauts in 1959. Gagarin was at this stage working as a test pilot at the Nikel airbase on the northernmost tip of Murmansk, 300 kms north of the Arctic Circle, flying in some of the most hazardous conditions possible. 2200 test pilots were examined by Korolev’s teams, and put through exhaustive medical and psychological tests. They were whittled down for a final group of 20, who began training in March 1960.
Since no one knew how bodies would behave in space, the training for the first cohort of cosmonauts was gruelling, pushing them beyond the limits of most men. Six were finally selected for the first flight. It was only two days before the first flight that Gagarin was named as the first cosmonaut, with Gherman Titov as his back-up. On 12 April 1961, from Baikonur airbase in what is now Kazakhstan, Gagarin boarded Vostok 1 and became the first human to orbit the earth. He travelled at a speed of 27.400 km per hour. The flight lasted 108 minutes, and at the highest point, Gagarin was approx 327km above the earth.
Gagarin’s life changed dramatically from the moment he landed – after ejecting by parachute at a height of 7km. His flight made him a national hero and worldwide celebrity. He travelled widely to promote the achievements of the Soviet Union - Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Finland, the UK, Iceland, Cuba, Brazil, Canada, Hungary, India etc - but found fame and the constant attention, a pressure greater than any exerted on him during his pre-flight days. He longed to fly again, but as a national hero, was banned from further space flights. He trained several other cosmonauts, and enrolled at the Zhukovsky Institute of Aeronautical Engineering in 1965, graduating in February 1968 with honours having designed a fixed-wing spacecraft, similar to the space shuttle the Americans went on to design for their missions. In March 1968, on a routine test flight in a MIG- 15, his plane crashed killing him and his co-pilot outright. He was 34. His funeral took place on 30 March 1968, and his remains are buried in the Kremlin wall.
Yuri Gagarin: The Statue
The statue of Yuri Gagarin for London was originally commissioned by Lubertsy Vocational School no 10 in l984, to celebrate what would have been Gagarin’s 50th birthday. Gagarin was killed in a plane crash on 27 March l968, aged 34.
Lubertsy is a small town on the northwest fringes of Moscow. Vocational School no 10 was a trade school where young boys of poor families learned to work as foundry men while completing their academic studies to the equivalent of GSE or ‘O’ levels. Gagarin entered the school in September l949, aged 15. He graduated in June l951.
The statue was paid for by local subscriptions from the town of Lubertsy and its pupils. They commissioned the sculptor Anatoly Novikov, one of the principal sculptors of the Stalingrad Memorial (now the Volgograd Memorial), to make the work. It was cast in an alloy of aluminium and zinc (similar to the statue of Eros on Piccadilly), and without its pedestal stands 12 ft high. It shows a youthful Gagarin wearing his SK-1 spacesuit (‘spasatelny kostum’: rescue or life costume), standing on a globe with the trajectory of his 90-minute orbit of the earth circling around it. The statue stands today at the entrance to Lubertsy Vocational School no 10, and close by, the gardens are planted with fir trees, each planted by a cosmonaut on his safe return to earth.
This statue was chosen for a number of reasons:
- Logistical: height, scale, weight, proportion and movability
- Suitability: its proximity to other monuments on the Mall and its compatibility with the surroundings of Admiralty Arch and the Mall – it stands at more or less the same height as the statue of Captain Cook on the opposite side of the Mall; and level with the statue of Navigation seated in a specially designed niche in the wall of Admiralty Arch. The pedestal of Captain Cook is inscribed with the words ‘ circumnavigator of the globe’.
The location for the statue was also chosen for a number of historic reasons: Admiralty House was the site where Harold MacMillan formally welcomed Gagarin to London on 13 July l961, after two days of hesitant response by the British Government over how to greet this Soviet hero. The overwhelming welcome given to Gagarin by the British people forced the government to tack an extra two days onto Gagarin’s UK visit, and a lunch with Her Majesty the Queen was hastily arranged for 14 July (she gave him two dolls for his daughters, Elena and Galina). The statue appropriately sits opposite that of Captain Cook, another explorer whose discoveries radically altered our view of the planet and our place within it. Permission to install the statue of Gagarin on this site was formally granted by Westminster City Council in January 2011.
Russian monuments and memorials are rarely given permission to be moved or to leave the country and, in this 50th Anniversary year, moving a statue of Gagarin out of Russia was unthinkable. Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency, was however extremely keen to help find a way of showing this statue in London, and after discussions with the Governor of Moscow Region, and with the Lubertsy authorities, it was agreed that Roscosmos would make an exhibition copy of the work, which they agreed to pay for. Moulds were taken from the original work in September 2010, and the statue was manufactured in Izhevsk in the heart of the Urals, in the town made famous for its manufacture of Kalashnikovs. Mikhail Kalashnikov, the inventor of the AK-47, still lives in the town.
The statue of Gagarin will be installed on the British Council Plaza on 14 July, where it will be mounted on a new plinth of white Portland stone. It will be unveiled officially by Elena Gagarina daughter of Yuri Gagarin.
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