A statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, was unveiled outside the British Council's London headquarters in the Mall today to mark the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight. The statue's arrival in London reinforces the cultural and scientific ties between the UK and Russia.
Credit: British Council
The statue, a gift from the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) to the British Council, will stand in the Mall for a period of 12 months. It was unveiled by HRH Prince Michael of Kent and Elena Gagarina, the cosmonaut's daughter and Director of the Kremlin Museums, exactly fifty years to the day that Yuri Gagarin met with the Queen as part of his visit to the UK in 1961.
Martin Davidson, Chief Executive of the British Council, said: "We are delighted to welcome this statue of Yuri Gagarin to London and to celebrate what was an extraordinary breakthrough for mankind. Russia and the UK are at their best when working together culturally and economically. Placing this statue in London is just one example of the goodwill and co-operation that exists between our countries."
Elena Gagarina said: "I am very proud to be unveiling a statue to my father in a city that welcomed him so warmly 50 years ago; and delighted that the spirit of adventure and the imaginative leap into the unknown which his flight exemplified are being honoured by Londoners today."
David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said: "The statue unveiled today is a fitting memorial to a true pioneer of our time, and also serves as an emblem to the greater collaboration with the Russian space agency agreed during my visit to Moscow earlier this year. The UK Russia Year of Space will see our countries working together on exciting research and education projects, and I hope this statue further inspires our next generation of space scientists."
Yuri Gagarin was 27 when he journeyed into space on board Vostok 1. His space capsule travelled at a speed of 27,400 kilometres per hour, and orbited the earth in 108 minutes. On landing, he became the most famous man on earth. This statue, showing Gagarin standing on a globe in his space suit, focuses on the human aspect of the extraordinary scientific achievements of the Russian space programme.
The statue was commissioned in 1984 by the small town of Lyubertsy, just outside Moscow, where Gagarin trained as a foundry worker from the ages of 15-16. Made by Anatoly Novikov, one of the chief sculptors of the Stalingrad Memorial (now the Volgograd Memorial), it was commissioned to commemorate what would have been Gagarin's 50th birthday (he died in a plane crash aged 34) and is today a site of pilgrimage for cosmonauts before they travel into space. The version in London is an exhibition copy of the original.
The site on the Mall has been chosen to reflect the nature of Gagarin's achievement. It stands facing the statue of Captain Cook on the opposite side of the Mall; and close to the statue of Navigation seated in the wall of Admiralty Arch. The pedestal of Captain Cook is inscribed with the words 'circumnavigator of the globe'.
The statue is the culmination of a year of planning by Roscosmos and the British Council and is just one example of the British Council's work to strengthen the relationship with Russia through education, English and the arts. Others who attended the unveiling ceremony included Vladimir Popovkin, Federal Minister for Space and Head of Russian Federal Space Agency; Sergei Krikalev, the cosmonaut-Director of Star City; Natalia Koroleva, daughter of Sergei Korolev, the 'Chief Designer' of the Soviet space programme and Helen Sharman, Britain's first astronaut.
In addition to the statue, the British Council is showing an exhibition, entitled Gagarin in Britain in its London headquarters on the life of Gagarin and the early Soviet space programme. It is also publishing a catalogue to mark the occasion.