Yuri Gagarin: to Prague via the stratosphere
Even after the death of Stalin in the Soviet Union and Klement Gottwald in Czechoslovakia the 1950s remained a period of high political tension between East and West. The Cold War was at its height; with it came the arms race and the space race. Here is Czechoslovakia’s president Antonín Novotný, in a New Year radio address on January 1 1958:
Three years later, on April 12 1961, the 27-year-old Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, and, of course, Czechoslovak Radio reported on the moment:
“For the first time, a man is speaking from the heavens, Major Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin….”
Gagarin’s voice may have been all but incomprehensible, but history had been made, and the Soviets had won a major battle in the space race. Following his historic flight, Gagarin embarked on a world tour and the very first city he visited, just two weeks after his return to the earth’s atmosphere, was Prague. Czechoslovak Radio asked him if he had a message for listeners:
Two children, Saša Málková and Pavel Šolc, both members of the Czechoslovak Radio children’s ensemble, were given the special honour of presenting Comrade Gagarin with a recording of songs composed by Czechoslovak composers in honour of his flight. They had even prepared a few words in Russian.
Gagarin replied by thanking the children
“I wish your choir much success. I hope that you will become truly great artists, and I wish happiness to all children in the Czechoslovak Republic.”
Yuri Gagarin went on to retrain as a fighter pilot, and died tragically in a crash during a training flight just seven years later. He is buried in the walls of the Kremlin on Moscow’s Red Square.