Medvedev: Space will remain a key Russian priority
The statement followed warnings by another cosmonaut that Russia risks losing its edge in space research by relying solely on Soviet-era achievements and doing little to develop new space technologies.
Gagarin’s 108-minute mission on April 12, 1961, remains a source of great national pride, and Russia marked the day with fanfare resembling Soviet-era celebrations. Schools had special lessons dedicated to Gagarin, billboards carried his smiling face and national television channels broadcast a flow of movies and documentaries about the flight.
“We were the first to fly to space and have had a great number of achievements, and we mustn’t lose our advantage,” Medvedev said during a visit to Mission Control outside Moscow.
On Monday, Svetlana Savitskaya, who flew space missions in 1982 and 1984 and became the first woman to make a spacewalk, harshly criticized the Kremlin for paying little attention to space research after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia has used the Soyuz and Progress spacecraft, whose designs date back to the 1960s, to send an increasing number of crew and cargo to the International Space Station. Russia’s importance will grow even more after the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis closes out the U.S. program this summer, leaving the Russian spacecraft as the only link to the station.
Korolyov, a visionary scientist as well as a tough manager, led the team that put the world’s first manmade satellite in orbit on October 4, 1957. He then spearheaded a massive effort to score another first with Gagarin’s mission.
“Our competition with America was spurring us to move faster to make the first human spaceflight,” Valery Kubasov, a member of Korolyov’s design team who later became a cosmonaut, told The Associated Press.
Gagarin’s accomplishment shocked the United States, prompting it to declare the goal of putting a man on the moon.
“Without Yuri Alexeyevich’s flight, I wouldn’t have flown to the moon,” said Thomas Stafford, commander of the Apollo 10 mission that approached within eight miles (13 kilometers) of the moon in May 1969, the last U.S. mission before the U.S. moon landing three months later.