What were you doing on 12 April 1961? It was one of those days that you might remember, like a Kennedy or MLK assassination, Neil Armstrong’s walk, or 9/11.
I know, I know many following this weren’t born then but for those that were think of the years between Elvis & Love Me Do – when Walking Back to Happiness and (I Wanna) Love My Life Away were top of the charts. I recall because I was eight at the time and did one of my first school projects on this event – collecting the newspaper clippings, including the ones of John F Kennedy pledging that the US would get even by being the first to land on the moon.
It was the day that Russia beat the US in the space race. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1 became the first man in Outer Space, with a 1½ hr orbit of the earth before landing in a field some 40kms out of his hometown in rural Russia.
Well today we stood touched that piece of nostalgia, passing the field where Gagarin’s craft plonked back down to earth – although he had ejected at 20,000 feet and parachuted the last bit before approaching some locals – and visiting the museum established in his honour.
The way it’s told is that Anna Takhtarova and her granddaughter, Rita, were weeding potatoes near the village of Smelovka when a man in a strange orange suit and a bulging white helmet approached across the field. The forest warden’s wife crossed herself but the girl was intrigued. “I’m a friend, comrades. A friend,” shouted the young man, removing his headgear. Takhtarova looked at him curiously. “Can it be that you have come from outer space,” she asked. “As a matter of fact, I have,” replied Yuri Gagarin.