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British Council to Install Sculpture of Yuri Gagarin Outside Its Offices in London
Gagarin aboard Vostok prior to blast off, April 12, 1961. Photo: Courtesy of RIA Novosti.

LONDON.- A statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, will be unveiled on the Mall, opposite the statue of Captain Cook and outside the British Council offices headquarters, on Thursday 14 July 2011, to mark the 50th Anniversary of Manned Space Flight.

The statue is a gift from the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) to the British Council. It will be installed on the Mall for a period of 12 months.

Vitaly Davydov, State Secretary and Deputy Head, Russian Space Agency commented on the statue coming to London:

“Gagarin belongs not only to Russia but to all countries and nations, and it’s important to us that the statue of Yuri Gagarin will be shown in London - one of the world’s most international and intercultural cities - to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first manned spaceflight. Russia and the UK have much in common, not only as allies during the Second World War, and victory gained through sacrifice - but as nations which have always been eager to travel to the unknown, and to discover new space; Gagarin symbolises this aspiration. And I believe that it is very important for us to combine our efforts – intellectual, cultural, logistical, and practical - to create a better planet for future generations everywhere.”

Vernon Ellis, Chair of the British Council commented: “The unveiling of the statue of Yuri Gagarin in July so close to Trafalgar Square will be a wonderful moment. I remember the excitement in 1961 when we heard that Gagarin had successfully orbited the earth. Everyone was moved by the sheer bravery and adventure of his flight and through this statue we celebrate both that breakthrough for mankind and the UK-Russian relationship.

“The statue’s arrival in London reinforces the strong cultural and scientific ties that bind the UK and Russia together and is the culmination of a year of planning by Roscosmos and the British Council. It is just one example of the British Council’s ongoing work to strengthen the relationship with Russia through education, English and the arts.”

Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, who visited Moscow in February for the signing of the joint statement on the UK Russia Year of Space said:

“We have a strong record of collaboration with Russia in space science. This statue is a particularly fitting emblem of both that history and the commitment to future work put in place through the UK Russia Year of Space and I’m delighted it is coming to London.”

The statue is an exhibition copy of the statue commissioned in 1984 by the small town of Lubertsy, 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), the statue was commissioned to commemorate 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 statue will be formally unveiled by the cosmonaut’s daughter, Elena Gagarina now Director of the Kremlin Museums. Others attending the ceremony include Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space and a close friend of Gagarin’s; Sergei Krikalev, the cosmonaut-Director of Star City; and Natalia Koroleva, daughter of Sergei Korolev, the ‘Chief Designer’ of the Soviet space programme, and the man responsible for many space firsts: the first artificial satellite (sputnik) to be launched, the first man in space, the first space walk, the first woman in space, and the first lunar probe.

Yuri Gagarin was 27 when he journeyed into space on board Vostok 1. His space capsule travelled at a speed of 27400 kilometres per hour, and orbited the earth in 108 minutes. On landing, he became the most famous man on earth. This statue, showing a life-sized Gagarin standing on a globe in his space suit, focuses on the human aspect of the extraordinary scientific innovations that lie behind the Russian space programme.

The site for the statue on the Mall has been chosen to reflect the nature of Gagarin’s achievement, as well as the history of his visit to London. It will stand opposite the statue of Captain Cook, whose discovery of Australia created a new understanding of the planet, and on whose pedestal are inscribed the words ’ ‘the circumnavigator of the globe’. It also stands in the shadow of Admiralty House, where Gagarin was formally welcomed to London by the then Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, and from where he was driven to have lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

In addition to the statue, the British Council will be showing an exhibition in its headquarters on the life of Gagarin and the early Soviet space programme. This will include rare photographs lent by the Gagarin family, Soviet posters from the Moscow Museum of Cosmonautics; a film made by Roscosmos showing original footage of the early training programme and the 1961 launch itself; books by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the ‘father of the Russian space programme’, from the Kaluga Space Museum. Also included are some extremely rare space items from the Vostok programme: the first space suit – SK-1 including the padded inner lining, blue rubberised pressure –suit and outer orange layer; and an ejector seat of the model used by Gagarin when he parachuted out of Vostok 1 at an altitude of 7 km. As there are no items from the early Soviet space programme on view in the UK, this is an exceptional opportunity to see some of the earliest space items, which marked the launch of man’s venture into space.

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