Moscow (AFP) April 12, 2011
Fifty years after Yuri Gagarin's historic flight, space travel is a priority for post-Soviet Russia and exploration of the cosmos remains in its infancy, President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday.
Medvedev told a glittering ceremony at the Kremlin attended by all of Russia's most celebrated cosmonauts that after the collapse of the USSR there had been doubts if space travel would remain a priority for Russia.
"But what followed in the history of modern Russia put these (doubts) to rest," Medvedev told the audience, which included Gagarin's widow Valentina making a rare public appearance.
Medvedev admitted that space travel was different from the visionary idealism of Gagarin's iconic first flight on April 12, 1961.
"Today we have no doubt that without space we have no future," he said.
"And even if our ideas have become more pragmatic, we did not change ideology. It is no accident the space industry is one of the priorities for the development of our country," he added.
He said he was sure future Russian leaders would act in the same way because "the future of human civilisation" was linked to space travel.
"This does not mean we have done everything and we are only at the very start of the path. This is the youth of space exploration, maybe even its childhood," he added.
The Russian space programme has endured a bumpy time in the last months, suffering the embarrassing loss of three navigation satellites in the ocean after a botched launch and mounting pressure for the space agency chief to quit.
But the United States will soon be dependent on Russia for launching its astronauts to space when the shuttle is taken out of service and Russia is planning to send probes to a Martian moon and the Moon in the next years.
earlier related report
President Dmitry Medvedev hosted the reception and pinned medals on cosmonauts and astronauts from Europe, Japan and the United States, almost all of whom gave their brief speeches in fluent Russian.
In cheerful mood, he confessed that he had wanted to be a cosmonaut himself, but that it "did not work out."
Watching in the first row was Gagarin's widow, Valentina Gagarina, who rarely appears in public. A slight dark haired woman in glasses, she did not speak at the ceremony.
Sitting behind were her two daughters, Galina and Yelena. Gagarin died in an air crash that has never been properly explained in 1968.
Russian cosmonauts present included Alexei Leonov, 76, the first man to make a space walk, and Valentina Tereshkova, 74, the first woman in space, dressed elegantly in a purple suit.
Speaking Russian, Thomas Stafford, who commanded the Apollo 10 lunar reconnaissance mission in 1969, paid tribute to Gagarin and said that without his pioneering flight, his own achievements would not have been possible.
"This is a good day because today Yuri Gagarin opened the way to space. Mr President, I am sure that I would not have flown to the moon without Yuri Alexeyevich's flight," said Stafford, 80.
"Yury Alexeyevich was a hero of the Soviet Union and of the whole world."
In an emotional speech, Leonov, who made the first space walk in 1965, praised the Soyuz-Apollo programme for promoting cooperation between former Cold War enemies.
"In 50 years we have gone from such a confrontation to such flights. Humanity has got more intelligent, it has to be said," he said.
He pointed out that Gagarin was a "boy" at 27, compared to the astronauts who fly to space today, many of whom are now in their 40s and 50s.
US astronaut Scott Kelly, 47, who returned to Earth last month after commanding an expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), also spoke at the ceremony and thanked Medvedev on behalf of NASA and his US colleagues.
Kelly's twin brother Mark is due to fly out to the ISS on the last voyage of the US shuttle on April 26. His wife, Democratic representative Gabrielle Giffords, is recovering from head injuries after she was shot in January.
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Russia celebrates Gagarin's conquest of space
Moscow (AFP) April 12, 2011
Russia on Tuesday marked a half century since Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, the greatest victory of Soviet science which expanded human horizons and still remembered by Russians as their finest hour. As Russian state television proudly broadcast archive footage of the smiling Gagarin touring the world after his exploit, President Dmitry Medvedev described the flight as a "revol ... read more
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