When I was born and they told me about him, Yuri Gagarin was already both history and myth, because by then he had unfortunately died in a stupid flight training accident (which as a little boy I had thought he had been killed during a space flight, but they quickly explained to me that this was not the case).
In school, for me his personality inhabited that space of mythical heroes who are chronologically close to us and whose effigies help to distinguish “our” time from “when we had still not been born.”
Those are times so near, so similar and yet so different. Likewise there were mythical heroes so similar, so near and so different; individuals such as Gagarin, Che and Camilo Cienfuegos – each of whom ended up missing under mysterious circumstances.
The Soviet program was cosmonautic (and not astronautic) in the universal sense implied in communing with the cosmos, an inheritance of the “Russian cosmologist” (as historians describe his ideas) Nikolai Fyodorov, a heretic to utopian Christians and a utopian idealist to orthodox Marxists.
However, a religious-Russian character prevailed in the space program through the imagination, that inheritance that made Korolev trace circular contours for the small living spaces in his capsules. Soviet candidates training to become pilots stood out in comparison to those of the USA in their psychological preparation and in their abilities to cope in adverse environments, reminiscent of religious ascesis.
But in their interpretation, stereotypes dominate: the BBC speaks of the “tortures” while a news “commemoration” on TV Russia Today alleges a hyper-rivalry to be “No. 1,” one in which Gagarin came out the winner due to his “charisma” (it would be necessary to see if such a sense of “torture” or “hyper-rivalry” existed for the first cosmonauts or if these are interpretations of contemporary capitalism).
Although it’s known that Korolev chose Gagarin for the first flight because of his charisma, it seems that the fraternity at the interior of the first “cosmic troop” was not a mere propagandistic lie…
The conquest of space is recorded as one of the landmarks in the search for an increasingly self-repentant sense of humanity. Perhaps 50 or 150 years after Sputnik, Vostok 1 or Apollo 11, more than scientific, technological, economic or political-ideological events, they will be remembered as parts of an epic artistic odyssey.
It’s absolutely certain that Gagarin’s smile and the unsurpassed budgetary expenditures that the Apollo program meant for the USA formed part of the operations of the superpowers in the middle of the Cold War. That last one — that of lunar conquest — was in fact the most expensive political propaganda campaign in all of human history.
But, after everything was said and done, we wanted to remember the 20th century for something more than atomic bombs or concentration camps. So its artistic voice came to us more coherently in the space epic than in the mass culture of comics and pop-stars or in avant-garde monsters like the black square of Malevich or the merde d´artiste Manzoni.
It was not by chance that “Space Odyssey” and “Solaris” — movies inspired by the cosmic theme — are probably the film creations of the century in terms of their most deeply touching our senses.
The leader of the bureaucratized Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, was not wrong when answering the question of the Nobel Committee about who was the author of the Sputnik program. He responded: “The Soviet people!”
It’s that to make it to outer space is a work that’s necessarily collective, and in the large-scale technological conquests of the last half century that was revealed with much greater clarity in whatever master creation of the most celebrated artists.
But universal fraternity continues to be a dream. The mission of the resurrection continues, deferred until better times.