Statue of space pioneer Yuri Gagarin unveiled in London

On July 14 this week, a statue of one of the great figures of space history was unveiled in London.

That figure was not a Brit, nor an American from the Apollo programme, but Yuri Gagarin, the Russian cosmonaut who was the first man in space.

The unveiling of the statue stands in interesting contrast to the recent unveiling of a statue of Ronald Reagan in the British capital. Reagan is often credited, rightly or wrongly, with helping to bring the Cold War to a close, whilst Gagarin's space flight was a propaganda coup for the Soviets.

But that is not how his journey is remembered; rather it is seen as the start of mankind's exploration of space, and this celebration of Gagarin's achievement is just a continuation of the rapturous welcome he received on his visit on the same day as the statue was unveiled fifty years ago.

Certainly space memorabilia related to Gagarin and his fellow cosmonauts is coveted to an extent that reflects its international, not just Russian, appeal.

In a Christie's 2001 sale, a fascinating piece of space history was offered: the space-flown food tube of the first 'Coffee with Milk' taken in space. "No coffee or milk has gone so fast or traveled so far since man's first use of them" noted Gagarin in 1961.

Coffee milk Gagarin tube Vostok
Gagarin's triple latte with extra cinnamon
(with a piece of cloth from his suit)

The tube tripled its $3,000-4,000 estimate to sell for $12,925. In the same sale Christie's sold Gagarin's original typescript account of the event. "On the twelfth of April, 1961, a Soviet spacecraft called 'Vostok' was put into orbit around the Earth; and I was aboard."

Towards the end he adds notes of his unique personal experiences, "The Earth has a very characteristic, very beautiful blue halo,... a smooth color transition from tender blue, to blue, to dark blue and purple, and then to the completely black color of the sky."

The historic document sold for $171,000. Then of course there's the $2.9m Vostok 3KA-2 capsule, which sold at Sotheby's earlier this year. The capsule, which tested the way for Gagarin's own, sold for a world record $2.9m.


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