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50th Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s Spaceflight

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The press is going gaga for Gagarin today, with plenty of space-related stories to mark today, the 50th anniversary of his single Earth orbit spaceflight on April 12th, 1961.  
The Guardian is running an interview with Gagarin’s daughter (her first ever to the Western media).  The BBC visits Star City (once referred to as the anonymous ‘Military Unit 26266‘), where Gagarin was trained.  Rupert Cornwell says the flight was a ‘definitive refutation‘ of anyone who still thought that Soviet Russia was ‘barbaric‘ at the time.  RFE/RL has an interview with Jamie Doran, who co-authored Gagarin’s biography; Doran calls him ‘an absolutely lovely fellow who was genuinely adored by almost everyone‘…despite his penchants for ‘drinking and womanizing‘.  Russia has apparently sought in recent years to dispel rumors that he was ‘murdered on the orders of jealous or paranoid Soviet rulers‘ by releasing top secret archives.  And a new website (www.pobeda-kosmos.ru) has been set up to house archives in various media, all relating to Soviet space matters (source: Moscow Times).

The Moscow Times contrasts the glory of Gagarin’s mission with the current state of space exploration, focusing on Russia’s decline in the area, saying that, despite efforts by President Dmitry Medvedev, the space program is now ‘stagnating, lacking a direction and living off past successes.‘  Medvedev speaks of his hopes that Russia will one day ‘be able to conquer other planets‘. 
The Telegraph has some striking images from the original flight. 
PHOTO: Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin is pictured saluting the crowd upon his arrival in London during an official visit to England in 1961. (AFP/File)