'Let's go!' Yuri Gagarin's maiden space voyage started it all

Soviet Pilot and Cosmonaut, Hero of the Soviet Union Yury Gagarin. © Sputnik
Fifty five years ago, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin stunned the world by becoming the first person to journey to outer space when he completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961.

Space travelers and researchers the world over took a moment on Tuesday to remember and pay homage to Gagarin's epoch-making achievement, which represented mankind's very first step towards conquering the final frontier of outer space.

Scott Kelly, retired American astronaut:

I’d like to say congratulations to the Russian people on the 55th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight, the first flight of a person in space. It is something that is inspiring to me and even to people in the US. I think many people recognize what we call a ‘cosmonautic's day'. S prazdnikom! (Congratulations!)

NASA astronaut Scott Kelly. ©

Mikhail Kornienko, Russian cosmonaut:

[Upon his return from a year long mission aboard the ISS] I began to understand very clearly that we need to save our planet. We, the people of the Earth, need to put our minds together because this is our home. I am saying obvious things… In aviation, there is such a thing as a decision point. Humankind is right now at a decision point: either we choose to carry on with these squabbles, or we choose to see clearly the danger we are in, that we can be wiped out.

[I would like to wish all the Russian people] some simple human things and experiences. I wish all the RT viewers happiness, good health, good luck, and of course love. Love is going to save this world, so I wish love to every one of us.

I'd say there's no politics in outer space. No one talks about politics here, at the ISS.  Although sometimes it shows up in some minor things, like when we watch newscasts, which we get regularly.

Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko © Stringer

Mark Serov, Russian cosmonaut:

I think Soyuz still has a long life ahead of it. There could be even another upgrade, because once in a while one could hear it being called “out-of-date.” Well, it’s not out-of-date, it still has a huge upgrade capacity, and its original design solutions remain efficient. That was the great thing our predecessors accomplished. And our task is to expand and improve their work by applying new technology where we can…

[Sergey Korolev] would be very happy because, in essence, Soyuz is his baby, it’s his swan song; he started this project.  And all the upgrades and improvements we are doing now – that’s us finishing what he started.

Mark Serov © astronaut.ru

Sean Fuller, Director, NASA Human Space Flight Programs - Russia at NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Yuri Gagarin was the first human into space and it really opened the door for space exploration. His first flight of 108 minutes has led to the International Space Station [ISS]… It started with his flight and today anyone who is 15 years old or younger has lived their entire life with someone living in space. And it all started on that day on April 12, 1961.

The cooperation between the US and the Russian space programs began a little over 40 years ago with Apollo Soyuz as we showed what we could do coming together with Alexey Leonov and his crew, and General Tom Stafford and his crew linking up in space. We have learned that working together we can accomplish more. Today the ISS is proof of that with 16 different nations working together…

Sean Fuller, Director, NASA Human Space Flight Programs. © RT

Elena Serova, Russian cosmonaut:

Once you’re inside a spaceship, you don’t feel nervous anymore, you are focused on doing your job. Because you know the spaceship was designed and put together by all these people. Every aspect of working at a space station involves a great deal of responsibility. The knowledge they invested in us down here on Earth includes all kinds of disciplines in science and technology. And you must carry out each task masterfully.

Zero gravity and the sensation of flight on-board the station turned out to match my expectations, because, when I was a little girl, I would often have dreams about flying. So this felt like being back in one of my dreams.

I just have to share this: every time you look outside a window, it’s a breathtaking sight. The most exciting part is when you are inside the cupola, the American module of the ISS that has windows on all sides, and you turn off your lights when passing over the dark side of the Earth. And you see all these lights downs there, and it feels as if you’re hovering in the sky above the Earth… You have to experience it to know what it feels like. 

Roskosmos cosmonaut Yelena Serova  © Ramil Sitdikov

Sergey Ryazansky, Russian cosmonaut:

Yuri Gagarin, with his huge personality, represents an entire era of major breakthroughs for our country. When you see his smile you can’t help but want to go to outer space. I think he truly was – and still is – a role model inspiring many boys and girls in our country.

Sergei Ryazansky. © Sputnik

Aleksandr Misurkin, Russian cosmonaut:

I spent some time thinking whose name the entire world would remember, and in connection to what achievement - apart from Yuri Gagarin’s. And I came to a conclusion that the next such person will be the one to test-ride either a time machine, or teleport, or to fly to another planet. Yuri Gagarin is truly the one who opened and represents a new epoch in the life of mankind.

Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin. © Sputnik

Viktor Gorbatko, Russian cosmonaut:

The first group [approved by the commission], myself included, was summoned to Moscow’s Institute for Air and Space Medicine as early as October 1959. That was where I first met Yuri Gagarin.

I remember him... He was very vivacious. Honestly, of the twenty of us, I also thought Gagarin was the best choice. To give him credit, after that flight he remained the same guy he had been before. That’s what I really liked about him. They must have considered this quality too when picking their candidate. But he was generally the best of us, that’s a known fact.

On this remarkable day, April 12th, I would like to congratulate all of my compatriots on this important occasion, the 55th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight, carried out by our fellow citizen, Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel Yuri Gagarin. May you all live long and happy lives and may there be peace on Earth!

Cosmonaut Victor Gorbatko. © Sergey Pyatakov

Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister:

For me, and for billions of people all over the world, Yuri Gagarin is cosmonaut number one. He glorified our motherland and embodied its achievements. Certainly, Gagarin's personality played a significant role in this nationwide inspiration derived from the man's first journey in space. I can vividly remember his smile, charisma, sincere friendliness, and openness.

I can [also] clearly remember the feeling of victory. Despite the Cold War that was going on at the time, with the relevant rhetoric, this feeling wasn't about a victory over someone. It was more about the joy that filled everyone with the recognition of new possibilities, the confidence that humanity would reach new heights together.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. © The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Igor Komarov, Head of Russian Federal Space Agency:

We’re looking at a lot of progress to be made in the next 55 years and a lot of exciting developments. That is a lot of time. I think that we will see a mission to Mars, and I think that Russia - together with its partners in other countries - will set up an orbital station on Mars. I’m sure there will also be a lot of research activity on the moon, including the creation of a lunar base and a lunar orbital station. By the way, we are already discussing such plans with our partners in NASA and the European Space Agency.

Igor Komarov, director general of the Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos). © Sputnik

I believe it already has [friendship between Russian cosmonauts and US astronauts continues to endure amid political uncertainty]. Last year was the 40th anniversary of the Soyuz-Apollo project and we had a big celebration for this milestone event. And there I saw Thomas Stafford and Alexey Leonov address the audience and share their memories. The level of cooperation and the spirit of collaboration this mission managed to achieve against the background of the Cold War and the highly strained relations between the then Soviet Union and the US is truly remarkable...

Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, left, and US astronaut Thomas Stafford answer journalists' questions at the first ever news conference in space during the experimental flight of Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft in July 1975. © Sputnik

Ron Paul, former congressman and presidential candidate:

I think it’s great because I love technology like this. I was a flight surgeon in the Air Force in the early 60s, and they were just starting the space program. And even then I thought: ‘Oh Boy! Maybe I would like to get in on this program, and maybe I could be the first doctor in space.’ I really supported it all.

Congressman Ron Paul. © Mark Makela

Thomas Pesquet, French aerospace engineer, pilot, and European Space Agency astronaut:

Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, is the symbol of space exploration for me. I would like to have met him just to chat with him, and to find out about his feelings before this first extraordinary adventure, to understand his emotions when he looked at the Earth and at the vastness of space through the three windows of the 'Vostok' spaceship, when he activated his catapult seat at an altitude of 7,000 meters to return to Earth. This man alone represents the will and a special spirit that is still seen in the astronauts of today. He also stands as a symbol for the Russian [space research] team that made the dream come true. [Gagarin] is an indisputable and unparalleled international hero of modern times. I know that his photo is still at the ISS, as it was at the MIR station. Fifty-five years [after his flight], I am proud to follow in Yuri's footsteps, and I will do my best to continue the great job of space exploration that he started.

European Space Agency (ESA) French astronaut Thomas Pesquet. © AFP

Sergei Krikalev, Russian cosmonaut:

For me, Gagarin is the ultimate pioneer. Even now, so many years later, as our engineers, some of whom worked back then, too, analyze how it all went: the preparations, the equipment, what issues there were, what failures, and what risks… we see that the risks were tremendous. The responsibility was tremendous. And what’s more, the uncertainty of how it would go was tremendous. That’s why Gagarin who made that step forward and became the first man to experience the weightlessness and orbit the Earth – he set ground for us that we all use as a springboard to keep moving forward.
I want to say that this is an international holiday…I am sending greetings to everyone on this remarkable day, and I believe that this holiday opened the way to the outer space not only for the Soviet Union and Russia, but for the entire humankind!...

Cosmonaut Sergei Krikalyov. © Grigoriy Sisoev

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.