The Royal Observatory Greenwich has become the permanent home to a statue of the first man in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The area where the statue stands has been named Gagarin Terrace.
Gagarin’s daughter, Elena, unveiled a plaque at the statue’s base in a ceremony on 7 March 2013 attended by the Russian Ambassador to the UK, the British Council, Roscosmos, Aeroflot, Sovcomflot, Russian Railways and many others.
The zinc-alloy statue shows Gagarin in his spacesuit standing on the globe. It is an exhibition copy of a sculpture commissioned in 1984 by the town of Lyubertsy, just outside Moscow, where Gagarin trained as a steel foundry worker when aged 15-16. Made by Anatoly Novikov, the original sculpture is now a place of pilgrimage for cosmonauts before they travel into space.
On 12 April 1961 Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel into space, when he orbited the Earth in a Vostok space capsule. In 2011 the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) presented the British Council with the statue of Gagarin to mark the 50th anniversary of his achievement, as a gift to the British people. It was installed on the Mall in central London for a period of 15 months.
Now the British Council’s statue has been given a long-term home at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, where it will stand just a few metres from the line of the Prime Meridian, where the world’s eastern and western hemispheres meet. For centuries Greenwich has been the starting point for maritime voyages of discovery, while the astronomers of the Royal Observatory explored the heavens through their telescopes, but throughout most of history space travel seemed an impossible dream.
When Astronomer Royal Sir Richard van der Riet Wooley was asked about the possibility of it in 1956 he famously stated 'It’s utter bilge. Nobody will ever put up the money to do such a thing'. Just five years later Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to venture beyond our planet. His statue is a fitting addition to the great explorers and adventurers of the past.
Royal Museums Greenwich wish to thank the British Council and Roscosmos for facilitating the relocation of the Yuri Gagarin statue to Greenwich, and its installation has been generously supported by Aeroflot, the Russian Railways and Sovcomflot.