‘Yuri’s Day’ in Russia

Just recently, this website, and the book it promotes, has begun to be noticed in Russia, and other countries of the former Soviet Union. This is very exciting for us, and a great privilege. While we did not intend it to be our main audience, we have been very interested (and perhaps a little anxious), to see how our telling of this heroic story would be received in its homeland.

While we have had many encouraging and helpful comments from that part of the world, we cannot deny that we have also heard outrage and anger.

I am not going to make excuses for ‘Yuri’s Day’. I believe in the value of what we have done, although I can always wish we had done it better. But I feel it is only proper that we should explain ourselves to those from Russia and the former territories of the USSR whom we have unwillingly offended.

We began this project with great enthusiasm. Here was one of the great stories of all time, featuring a man who was for our generation, a childhood hero: The world’s first spaceman.

We felt his story was far too little known in the West. At the time, the secrecy surrounding the Soviet space programme, and the overwhelming force of Cold War propaganda, meant that many people in the US, the UK and Western Europe, had only vague and often mistaken ideas about what the Soviets’ achievements really were. Now, twenty years after the end of the Cold War, we felt it was high time somebody started, if only in a small way, to put that right.

Even today, you find many misconceptions among ordinary people in the west. For example, it is common to hear the opinion that Soviet space technology was somehow crude and unsophisticated compared to the Americans. This of course is propaganda nonsense. Each space programme had its own different design philosophies and worked with different resources under different conditions of industrial production. Today, the Soviet R-7 rocket, in its modern guise as the Soyuz/TMA is planet Earth’s main heavy-lift spaceship. That to me is not unsophisticated technology, it is technology that works.

I have seen an actual Mercury capsule close up in the British Science Museum. Having also studied the construction of Vostok carefully, I know I would rather have been a cosmonaut than an astronaut – were I brave enough!

Well, space enthusiasts can have fun debating that one forever. My point is this: So many people in the west who express opinions such as ‘Soviet technology was crude’ have no idea that it is largely propaganda that they are repeating. Our book is only a small chisel to chip away at those kinds of misunderstandings, but it is a start.

In my next post, I will look at how the information on which ‘Yuri’s Day’ is based, was gathered.

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