It’s almost over. And yet there is still so much to tell in the extraordinary tale of Yuri Gagarin and the First Flight. A very brief selection of images had to stand for years of major events. The Soviet space program goes on to achieve many landmark missions in the conquest of space before the Americans, themselves driven on by the stiff Soviet competition, achieve the first of a series of manned landings on the Moon.

The final collapse of the Soviet Union was an exhilarating, but also a disturbing time in Western Europe. If something that big and powerful could seemingly crumble away, it made one ask uncomfortable questions about other great institutions. In the aftermath, as the propaganda war faded into silence, we also began to learn much more about the creativity as well as the failures of the Soviet state.

I vividly remember seeing a haunting press photo of what appeared to be the nose of a NASA Space Shuttle protruding from a ruined hangar. It looked like dystopian science fiction. This was my first encounter with Buran, the Soviet space-plane. In a way, it was a glimpse into an alternative universe. Although superficially similar it was not a copy of the NASA craft. Quite a large number of them were built, and a few successfully flown, unmanned, under fully automatic control. We also began to learn more about Korolev’s astonishing but flawed N1 moon-rockets, and just how close the Soviets had come to beating the Americans to the Moon.

It was fascinating to discover, late in the project, and just in time for inclusion, an official image of Yuri and some of his colleagues, posing with a wind tunnel model of Buran, and to learn that Yuri himself had done theoretical work on the design of re-useable space-planes.

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