Appeal for Memories of Yuri Gagarin for 50th Anniversary


An appeal has been launched for people that met Yuri Gagarin, or were inspired by his visit to the UK in July 1961, to share their memories and pictures online. The appeal is part of YuriGagarin50 (, a campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight in the UK.Following his historic first human spaceflight on 12th April 1961, Gagarin embarked on a world tour. As a former foundry worker, he was invited to visit Manchester in the UK by the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers. The Macmillan Government extended the invitation to London, adding an extra few days to the planned tour.  Gagarin visited the UK between Tuesday 11th and Saturday 15th July 1961, visiting Manchester on Wednesday 12th July.

“Gagarin’s flight was an immensely important cultural event, as well as a technological milestone,” said Dr Chris Welch, the Chair of YuriGagarin50. “You can see clearly in contemporary footage and images how warmly the British people received Gagarin during his visit to the UK. We know that meeting or seeing Gagarin left a huge impression on many people.  We would like very much to hear those stories and find out about the impact that the events of 1961 had on their lives.”

Surprisingly, there has not been a definitive timeline published of Gagarin’s movements during his visit.  YuriGagarin50 hopes that this appeal will fill in some of the gaps.

“There are several wonderful photographs that show Gagarin meeting people during his tour.  We would very much like to make contact with some of them – the boy that gate crashed the press conference at the Soviet Exhibition at Earl’s Court, the boy who dressed up in a spacesuit to meet Gagarin at Burlington House, the girl who presented Gagarin with flowers on his arrival at the Russian Embassy.  It would be fantastic to hear their memories, or the stories that have been passed down through families, and it would also help us pin down exactly what Gagarin did and who he met during those five days,” said Dr Welch.

John Zarnecki, Professor of Space Science at the Open University is perhaps the clearest example of someone who was inspired by Gagarin’s visit.  Aged 11, he was given the day off school to see Gagarin visit Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate Cemetery.  He later went on to follow a career in space science and was the lead scientist for the Surface Science Package, an instrument carried by the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe, which landed on Saturn’s moon Titan in January 2005.  Huygens holds the record for the most distant landing of man-made object from Earth.

“I really became hooked on Space exploration in 1961 after a chance encounter with this man – Yuri Gagarin – the first man in Space and overnight the most famous man on Earth,” said Prof Zarnecki.

Memories and photos can be submitted through the YuriGagarin50 website:

The Russian news agency, RIA Novosti, is also looking to track down some of the people photographed with Yuri Gagarin in images from its online archive. The photos can be found by searching with the keyword “YG50” at


Yuri Gagarin during his visit to Metropolitan Vickers, Trafford Park. Credit: Roy Darbyshire.

For Roy Darbyshire’s story about how he came to take this photo, see:


On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin made the first human flight in space. 12 April 2011 will be the 50th anniversary of this event.

Although this anniversary has clear significance for human spaceflight, it also offers an excellent opportunity to focus attention on many other space and space-related activities and showcase the UK’s achievements and expertise in these areas.

YuriGagarin50 provides a single overarching framework to stimulate and facilitate events and activities throughout the UK that are being organised by different groups and organisations, matched to local needs and resources.

Details of events can be found on the YuriGagarin50 website:

The aims of YuriGagarin50 are to:

  1. Showcase UK and Russian achievements in space science, technology and engineering, highlighting the benefits that these bring.
  2. Excite and engage the general public with space and the advancements derived from it, using Gagarin’s flight as the catalyst.
  3. Nurture and encourage the next generation of students in STEM subjects to support the UK’s future in science and technology.
  4. Promote sustainable collaboration between the UK and Russia in science, technology and culture.
  5. Stimulate celebration and recognition of the global significance of Gagarin and his flight – ‘the first person in space, the first person to see the Earth as a planet’.

YuriGagarin50 is supported by the UK Space Agency, the Royal Astronomical Society, the Space Education Trust, Whiteshirt Communications, the Planetary Society and FootageVault.


Dr Chris Welch
Chair of YuriGagarin50

Prof John Zarnecki

Anita Heward
YuriGagarin50 Press Officer

Ralph Gibson
Project Manager / Photo Librarian
RIA Novosti London Bureau

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