Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin retro-futuristically recast in saint-like imagery through Russian iconographic painting. Image Source: Science Photo Library.
Caption for the above image: Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968), Soviet cosmonaut. Gagarin became the first person in space when he was launched on Vostok 1 on 12th April 1961. The flight lasted for just one orbit, ending 108 minutes after take-off. This portrait is part of the icon painting tradition of Palekh, Russia. Miniature painted on lacquer, 1981.
The University of Bristol is commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first voyage into space with a conference entitled, Heavenly Discourses: Myth, Astronomy and Culture. Their call for papers gives a nice symbolic dimension to this remarkable anniversary, as they mull over our urge to touch the sky (here):
This symbolic sensibility around human spaceflight, which reminds us so deeply of our oldest myths, may explain why so many urban legends and conspiracy theories have arisen around the early history of space programs. Gagarin's case is no different. There is a piece debunking the conspiracy theories around this event at The Space Review. This heavenly discourse might also explain why Gagarin was falsely credited with saying that he had not seen god in space. It was in fact Khrushchev who said, "Gagarin flew into space, but didn't see any god there." We have to ask - why did divinity come up at all?On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the Earth. This conference, 'Heavenly Discourses', is being held to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of that event. In almost every human culture the sky functions as a backdrop for mythical encounters, employing the celestial environment as a stage set for narratives of human and divine experience. That moment when human beings first left the planet gave us a different perspective on the sky. This conference will bring together scholars to examine the relationship between the heavens and culture
Gagarin flew the Vostok 1 spacecraft 302 kilometres (188 miles) above Earth for total flight time of 1 hour and 48 minutes. According to the Praxis Manned Spaceflight Log (p. 59), Gagarin ejected as planned during re-entry and "reportedly landed close to bemused farm workers and a cow, 26 km (16 miles) southwest of Engels, near Smelovako, Saratov." Wiki: "A farmer and her daughter observed the strange scene of a figure in a bright orange suit with a large white helmet landing near them by parachute. Gagarin later recalled, 'When they saw me in my space suit and the parachute dragging alongside as I walked, they started to back away in fear. I told them, don't be afraid, I am a Soviet like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!'"
Vostok I capsule used by Yuri Gagarin in first space flight. Now on display at the RKK Energiya Museum outside of Moscow. Image Source: Wiki.
After the flight, Gagarin became an international celebrity and toured the world to discuss his experience. He died in 1968 in a training flight accident.
Video Source: Youtube.