60TH ANNIVERSARY

Yuri Gagarin's 108 minutes in orbit opened the space era for humankind

Gagarin, a Soviet citizen born in Russia, was the first human to leave Planet Earth.

In Summary

• In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly declared April 12 as the International Day of Human Space Flight to be celebrated each year at the international level.

• It also reaffirmed the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples,

Illustration
Illustration
Image: RUSSIAN EMBASSY

Today, we celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the historic 108-minute flight of Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet citizen born in Russia, who was the first human to leave Planet Earth. 

This historic event opened the way for space exploration for the benefit of all mankind. In 2011, the United Nations General Assembly declared April 12 as the International Day of Human Space Flight to be celebrated each year at the international level.

It also reaffirmed the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples, as well as ensuring the realisation of their aspiration to maintain outer space for peaceful purposes.

Thus, humanity’s dream came true thanks to the talent and efforts of thousands of people in the Soviet Union – scientists, researchers, designers, constructors, engineers, and workers. It is remarkable that it happened only 16 years after World War II, which brought unspeakable devastation to our country.

We are understandably proud of our space achievements. The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova, the first space walk was carried out by Aleksey Leonov, both Russians. The Soviet Union build the first space station on Earth’s orbit, etc.

What is less known is that from the very early stages of our space programme, much effort was focused on international cooperation. Just a few years after Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight, our country launched a unique initiative to internationalise outer space exploration – the INTERCOSMOS programme. This pioneering project offered an opportunity for the nations without their own space capabilities to directly participate in humanity’s breakthrough towards the stars.

INTERCOSMOS was incepted in 1967 as a joint satellite programme by nine countries and expanded into an intergovernmental programme in 1976. Through INTERCOSMOS, the USSR enabled 17 nations, including developing countries, to benefit from space research and even send to space their own first-ever space explorers alongside the Russian cosmonauts. Between 1978 and 1981, among those who joined the space pioneers’ club were a Czech, a Pole, a German, a Bulgarian, a Hungarian, a Vietnamese, a Cuban, a Mongol, and a Romanian.

In 1975, the first-ever joint Soviet-American space mission “Soyuz-Apollo” was carried out with the spaceships of the two countries docking in orbit and the cosmonauts and the astronauts proved that they could work together. That was a powerful symbol of space being a venue for peaceful and mutually beneficial cooperation rather than confrontation.

Through the 80s and 90s, the Soviet Union continued to send international space crews to its orbital stations, including the famous MIR, a record-breaking modular space base assembled in orbit from 1986 to 1996. Those included a Frenchman, an Indian, a Syrian, an Afghan, a Japanese, an Englishwoman, an Austrian, and others.

INTERCOSMOS was a product of the early romantic era of space exploration, a token of internationalism that emerged in spite of the Cold War divisions and united a multitude of nations in the common quest: per asperaad astra.

This spirit lives on. Its successful implementation paved the way for subsequent development of international cooperation in space. For more than 20 years the International Space Station built and operated by 14 countries has been orbiting the Earth with an international crew on board. It is an excellent example of harmonious work of different nations for the benefit of Humankind.

 

The author is the Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Kenya.