Yuri’s Day cast of characters

YURI’s DAY is the story of a young man who became one of the first international superstars in 1961, even though the world knew almost nothing about him. The great achievement of his life, celebrated to this day, took him less than two hours to complete, yet required his bravery and commitment over a period of years. A happy and triumphant lad at the age of 27, he was tired, frightened, physically out of conditon and emotionally haunted by the time of his 33rd birthday. In that last year of his short life, he battled with his country’s government to try and save a colleague destined for almost certain death. He met with state security agents in darkened stairwells, avoiding hidden microphones, and passed on documents so secret, so sensitive, that people could lose their jobs just for glancing at them. This man put his life at risk, first for his country, then for his friends. Even his childhood required bravery in the face of terrifying events that few of us could hope to survive. We remember Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin as the first person in history to travel into space, but that’s more or less all that most people know about him. YURI’s DAY is our attempt to bring some of the details of his story to a wider audience.

But at least everyone has heard of Yuri Gagarin . . . Everyone has heard, too, of Wernher von Braun, the German-born engineer behind the Saturn V moon rocket. Everyone also knows the cliché about him being some kind of a “Nazi war criminal.” Of course, the truth is more complicated, and historians are still trying to figure out the moral balance of a man who, by all accounts, was a decent and noble human being. Yet his early rockets were built by starving slaves in hellish caverns . . .

It was another man, almost unknown to us in the West, who entered those caves at the end of the Second World War and took away many of von Braun’s secrets—and then improved on them. Sergei Korolev was every bit von Braun’s equal as an engineer and as a leader of vast construction projects. Just like von Braun, he was obsessed, not by war, but by the peaceful uses of rockets as a means of sending us into space. And like von Braun, he may – depending on your point of view – have sold his spacefaring soul to the militaristic devil in order to achieve his dreams. His rockets carried people to the stars. They also carried bombs that could have wiped us all out. YURI’s DAY is also the story of Korolev: the man behind Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin, and today’s Soyuz spaceships.

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