50 years after Yuri Gagarin's historic flight into space, the San Diego Air & Space Museum
is playing a pivotal role in reuniting two pieces of unique footage of Yuri Gagarin long thought lost and separated forever by using its brand new hi-def digitizer.
The 16mm film footage shows Yuri Gagarin arriving at Ringway Airport (now Manchester Airport) in Manchester, England on 12th July, 1961, and being greeted there by the president of the foundry workers' union who had invited him.
Gagarin was himself a former foundryman. It was Gagarin's first visit outside of the Soviet bloc, and at the time he was still the only human to have orbited the earth.
The footage was shown to the Museum's Director of Education, Francis French, as part of a longer roll of 16mm footage, in 1987 during a visit to the union headquarters in England. French was at the time researching Gagarin's visit to Manchester, research which was eventually used in a magazine article about Gagarin's visit.
The fragile film broke when it was being screened, and the union representative personally gifted French the broken parts of the footage. A still from the footage was subsequently used in the above-referenced magazine article.
According to UK press reports the remainder of the film footage was thrown away when the union offices were closed, and rescued from a trash pile at the last moment, before being given to the North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University, where it remains.
The San Diego Air & Space Museum used its new hi-def film digitizer, capable of processing 16mm film, to digitize the fragile film and show it on the Museum's YouTube channel as a free educational opportunity to learn more about a historic moment when East met West.
Talks have now begun with the North West Film Archive to digitally reunite the footage, allowing the film to be seen in complete form for the first time this century. The project demonstrates the importance of equipment such as the digitizer, which can bring long-forgotten footage back to life.
The entire section of the film fragment, including the aircraft landing, can be seen here.
The section of Yuri Gagarin has been slowed down for better viewing. And one freeze frame.
"Watching the footage," explained Katrina Pescador, the Museum's head archivist, "I could immediately see why Gagarin had a magnetic appeal to the crowds that followed him. To have a Soviet military officer, in military uniform, receive adulation in the West at the height of the Cold War seems very odd. But just to watch this brief fragment of footage, and see Gagarin's charismatic smile, explains it all. It goes to show how a small piece of film footage, rescued in this way, can provide a key glimpse into a puzzling historical question."