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1961: Earth through the porthole

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Photo: archive

The year was 1961. One of the most significant events during that year and the whole of the 20th century was the first flight of man in space. His name was Yuri Gagarin and that same year he paid a visit to Bulgaria and was warmly welcomed by the people. He also rceived state honors personally by the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party Todor Zhivkov.

Photo: archive"Dear Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, for us, Bulgarians, today is an exceptional and happy day,” Todor Zhivkov said. “The news of your arrival on Bulgarian land, touched deeply young and old in our cities and villages. You have achieved a legendary feat in the name of peace and for the good of all mankind. This great achievement causes admiration and pride for the great power of man in all corners of our planet. Your name has become close and dear to every Bulgarian heart. Allow me, dear Yuriy, on behalf of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, the Presidium of the National Assembly and the Council of Ministers of the People's Republic of Bulgaria, on behalf of our people to warmly welcome you in our country.  Through your person we congratulate the glorious builders of Soviet science and technology, the thousands of Soviet scientists, who in the conditions of Soviet power and the Marxist-Leninist materialist doctrine, left far behind the science and technology in the capitalist society and most successfully reveal the deepest secrets of nature. They use its inexhaustible forces in the service of humanity and create the conditions for the gradual penetration of humans in the unknown expanse of the universe.”

Gagarin was selected among the six pilots prepared for the first flight into space. On April 12, 1961 at 9 hours and 7 minutes the Vostok spacecraft took off Baikonur and the spaceflight consisted of one orbit around Earth. These 108 minutes of the life of Gagarin, and of all humanity, made him the most famous man on the planet. Minutes before takeoff, Gagarin said that his whole life seemed like a wonderful moment. Everything he experienced before led him to the ultimate goal - "To be the first man in space; to enter an unknown to this day confrontation with nature. Can a person want more?" he said.

Two days after the successful flight hundreds of thousands of people welcomed him with a spontaneous rally on the Red Square in Moscow. A month later he began a worldwide tour, visiting more than 30 countries. Czechoslovakia was first and second was Bulgaria. In this country Gagarin visited a number of cities. In Sofia he visited the newly opened 138th school, bearing his name. In the yard he planted a pine tree, which marked the beginning of the so-called "Alley of the Cosmonauts." Five years later he visited the school once again. After him guests were cosmonauts Pavel Popovich, Valentina Tereshkova, Nikolay Rukavishnikov, Bulgarian cosmonaut Georgi Ivanov. And these are just some of the names kept in the guestbook of the school, which after the democratic changes started bearing the name of Bulgarian historian Vasil Zlatarski.

The successful flight of Yuri Gagarin is the third big success of the Soviet Union in the space race with the United States. Previously, the Soviet Union managed to send into outer space the first satellite and the first iving creature - the Laika dog. Americans managed to catch up to them during the fourth stage of the space race - sending people to the moon. Being part of the "socialist camp," Bulgaria was also involved in space programs with various inventions and devices, as well as the production of special foods. Bulgaria is the third country in the world, producing food for astronauts, with the menu including even yogurt. These foods are made by scientists of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. After the collapse of the socialist bloc Bulgaria continues its cooperation in the development of space technologies with a number of countries. But it could not use its great potential in the field of space physics, aerospace technology, equipment and systems, as due to lack of funds it was not a member of the European Space Agency until this year. Anyway, Bulgaria has been working in the field of space technology for nearly half a century since 1969. A year earlier - in 1968, the first man in space Yuri Gagarin died in a training flight on MiG-15 ... And once he could watch Earth from above.

English: Alexander Markov

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