Statue of cosmonaut hero Yuri Gagarin to take over London's Mall in Anglo-Russian space pact

By Culture24 Staff | 05 April 2011
A black and white photo of a cosmonaut in a space helmet
A statue of cosmonaut hero Yuri Gagarin is about to land in London© RIA Novosti
Yuri Gagarin, the humble young Russian cosmonaut whose fame hit heights as intergalactic as his achievements when he became the first human to enter space in a capsule, will receive a more grounded commemoration in London this summer.

A lifesize statue of the superstar astronaut, resplendent in the suit he zipped around the Earth in during his 108-minute mission, will pose opposite Australia discoverer Captain Cook on the Mall in London. It will stand in the shadow of the Admiralty House grounds where then-Prime Minister Harold MacMillan once welcomed Gagarin before escorting him to lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

“I remember the excitement in 1961 when we heard that Gagarin had successfully orbited the earth,” says Vernon Ellis, the Chair of the British Council, which has devised this homage to heroism to mark the 50th anniversary of the feat it celebrates.

“Everyone was moved by the sheer bravery and adventure of his flight, and through this statue we celebrate both that breakthrough for mankind and the UK-Russian relationship. The unveiling of the statue so close to Trafalgar Square will be a wonderful moment.”

A photo of a statue of a man in a space suit on a snowy road in Russia
The statue was originally made for the Russian town of Lubertsy in 1984© Andrea Rose
Ellis wants the monument – a gift from the Russian Space Agency which will be on show for 12 months – to symbolise ongoing attempts to enhance links between the countries through education, languages and the arts. A year of planning has gone into the installation, which will arrive as part of the current UK Russia Year of Space

It is an exhibition copy of a statue commissioned 27 years ago by Lubertsy, the modest town just outside Moscow where Gagarin trained as a foundry work in his teens, and will be opened by Elena Gagarina, Gagarin’s daughter and the current Director of the Kremlin Museums, in July.

“We have a strong record of collaboration with Russia in space science,” says David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science.

“This statue is a particularly fitting emblem of both that history and the commitment to future work put in place through the UK Russia Year of Space.”

Vitaly Davydov, the State Secretary and Deputy Head of the Russian Space Agency, says the figure will reflect the shared eagerness of Russia and Britain to “travel to the unknown” and “discover new space”.

“Gagarin belongs not only to Russia but to all countries and nations, and it’s important to us that the statue of Yuri Gagarin will be shown in London – one of the world’s most international and intercultural cities,” he adds.

“I believe that it is very important for us to combine our efforts – intellectual, cultural, logistical, and practical – to create a better planet for future generations everywhere.”

An accompanying exhibition at the Council’s Spring Gardens headquarters will chart the life of Gagarin and the early Soviet space programme, featuring rare photographs lent by his family, posters from the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics, footage of early training programmes and the 1961 launch, books, space suits and ejector seats.

  • Statue unveiling takes place on July 14 2011.
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