One of the three cosmonauts who used to live in Kaliningrad.
If you are studying Russian language, besides Chekhov or Tchaikovsky, you should also know about Yuri Gagarin. A few years ago, my teacher in Singapore Katya introduced me to him when we covered important dates in the Russian calendar. In the mindscape of Russian people, Gagarin is a giant, he forever will be. She spoke with amazement of Gagarin as if its a crime that I did not already know about him. I was too americanized in that sense, I only knew Neil Armstrong!
Yuri Gagarin (9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968) was a Soviet-era pilot and cosmonaut. He was the first human being to journey into outer space, when his "Vostok" spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961, which was exactly 50 years ago on this day.
Gagarin became an international celebrity, and was awarded many medals and honours, including Hero of the Soviet Union, the nation's highest honour. "Vostok" marked his only spaceflight, but he served as backup crew to the "Soyuz" mission. Gagarin died in 1968 when a training jet he was piloting crashed.
On this day, people place flowers at the monument in Kaliningrad that commemorate the achievements of famous cosmonauts who used to live here. Young children paid tribute with flowers as a group with guidance from the teachers. On TV and newspapers were stories and programs devoted to him.
In the morning my teacher came and decided that we shall read about Gagarin. According to the Russian text, Gagarin was chosen into a group of 20 pilot-cosmonauts, who "were ordinary, not the best of the best" as the risk was too high. The common traits among them was that they were of small build. Gagarin's life was pretty ordinary before his flight to the outer space. USSR received news that USA was going to launch their space ship on the 20th of April, hence in the true spirit of competition, the Soviet authorities decided to launch "Vostok" a few days earlier. And Gagarin was the chosen one.
At that time, the Soviet painted three scenarios. Firstly, it was successful, secondly, the spacecraft loses connection and descends into the taiga forest or ocean, in that case USSR will enlist international assistance in the search of the cosmonaut. Lastly, they were prepared that he will die a tragic death. But the last two scenarios did not materialize. Gagarin flew back heroically and gained global fame. His life was changed forever.
With the instant glory, people wondered if he could overcome the weight of fame. Gaining fame in space, his life on earth became somewhat difficult. He received endless invitations from friends, from you-know-where and refusal would only put him in bad shape.
However, the ordinary, honest Gagarin did not move too far from his true self. Once he was driving in his "Volga" red car, a gift from the state. He met with an accident with an old pensioner on the road. With his celebrity status, the policeman was too excited to pass him a ticket and prepared to let him go. But Gagarin refused the offer and came back to the site and ''upheld justice".
After this incident, he knew he had to change and he did. He got back to work and prepared for another flight mission in space ship "Soyuz". However he died in a fatal training session, not an unusual mishap in training endeavours. The last sentence of the article was such: Destiny has it that, in the memory of humankind, he will forever remain young. (Судьба хотела, чтобы в памяти человечества он навсегда остался молодым )