On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.
His flight in the Vostok spacecraft lasted a little over one and a half hours and took him around the world.
His mission hadn’t been announced until he was already in orbit but by the time he landed in Kazakhstan, Soviet radio was broadcasting his achievement to the globe. Soon after touch down the acclamations began.
Over the next few weeks and months it spread, accompanying Gagarin as he visited country after country receiving rapturous reception wherever he went.
In July 1961 he came to the United Kingdom, his first trip outside the Soviet bloc. His invitation came from the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers. Before joining the Soviet Air Force Gagarin had been a fellow steel worker. Over four days Gagarin toured London and Manchester where he was introduced to dignitaries, civic leaders, politicians and royalty.
On 14 July he took lunch with Her Majesty the Queen. Everywhere he went he was greeted by huge crowds who wanted to see this charismatic young man – he was just 27 years old – who had taken humanity into the new realm of space. He didn’t have time to visit the Science Museum but not long after the museum put on display a model of his Vostok spacecraft.
At the time the Soviet authorities released very little details of space missions and vehicles and so the model, following the available specifications, looked quite unlike the real thing! Curators and museum workshop technicians remedied this with an accurate scale model a few years later.
Although Gagarin never visited the Science Museum during his short life – he died in an aircraft crash in 1968 – his pioneering mission was well represented in the 2015 Cosmonauts exhibition and two years later a special bust was unveiled celebrating the man, his life and his breaching of the final frontier for humanity.