This is Yuri Night, an international celebration of humanity's achievements in space. It is named, of course, after Yuri Gagarin, who on April12, 1961 was the first man to orbit the Earth and thus the first human being in outer space.
Years ago, I took my Russian friend Alexei to the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center, which contains an astonishing collection of airplanes, spacecraft, and related materials. It has several MiG fighter jets, but almost nothing about the Soviet space program. "It's as if it never existed," Alexei murmured sadly.
Well, the problem was that the Udvar-Hazy displays only the most spectacular of objects and almost all of those associated with the Soviet Union remain in Russia. The USSR did many terrible things. But there's no denying this achievement.
Alexei can take comfort in that. Far into the future, when all else about our times is forgotten, that fact will remain.
And speaking of mixed heritage . . .
The Soviet space program was built and run by a man known to the outside world only as the Grozny Konstruktor, the Great Engineer. His name was Sergei Pavlovich Korolov. I visited his house in Moscow once. Based entirely on the information presented there, he seemed an admirable person. He treated the cosmonauts like son and had them over on Sundays for dinner and a film with him. He had a large library on very simple shelves which included American science fiction. The travel items--a clock, a shaving kit, and so on--were simple, functional, cheap.
When the Soviet Union started their space program and needed somebody to head it, they recalled him from Siberia, where he was imprisoned.
His crime? He had stolen government resources, his time, by engaging in experiments in rocketry.
Above: Yuri Gagarin had the right stuff. Acknowledging that in no way justifies the Russian invasion of Ukraine.