Russians Honor Space Heroes on 50th Anniversary of Gagarin’s Flight

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. (Credit: Russian government)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev awarded state decorations to cosmonauts, employees and veterans at a ceremony in Moscow to mark the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin.

The ceremony was attended by Yury Gagarin’s widow Valentina Gagarina and his two daughters, as well as several members of the first group of cosmonauts, including the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova. U.S. space station commander Scott Kelly and former astronaut Tom Stafford, who commanded the U.S. side of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, received the Medal for Merits in Space Exploration from the Russian president.

A transcript of Medvedev’s remarks and additional photos follow.


Good afternoon,

First of all, I would like to congratulate all of you on the International Day of Human Space Flight. Exactly half a century ago Yury Gagarin launched a new age in human history: an age of space exploration.

Fifty years is a very long time and great many people in our country were born after Yury Gagarin’s flight, but this does not mean that this event has been relegated to the distant past. This was a great triumph for our country, and it is still felt the same way by a huge number of people in Russia and around the world. Russians are still proud of all those who work in the space industry: the cosmonauts, those who design space technology and everyone who contributes to this process.

Dmitry Medvedev with the world's first spacewalker, Alexei Leonov. (Credit: Russian government)

Today’s holiday is a national celebration; in fact, it is probably an international one. I have just spoken with the ISS crew: our friends in orbit, both Russian and foreign nationals, have asked me to pass on their greetings to you. Their feelings are shared today by a huge number of people who think about space and dream about space, as well as all those who love their country and want it to prosper.

The enormous significance of Yury Gagarin’s space flight was the fact that it was an event that united people, perhaps like no other event in history, because humanity usually finds the courage to join forces only when there very grave reasons for it: wars or their end, and the division of spheres of influence. Whereas this event, even though it took place at a very difficult time – and it was a truly difficult period, a time of confrontation between two systems – this event united everyone even at that time. It is clear that the first cosmonaut, who was born on our soil, became not only our national hero but also a person known and loved across the globe.

I warmly welcome Yury Gagarin’s widow, Valentina, and his daughters, Elena and Galina.

Dmitry Medvedev shakes hands with U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly. (Credit: Russian government)

Many of us, including myself, were born into the space age, and although space research has become something utterly commonplace, nonetheless space remains one of the most promising and exciting areas of human endeavour. Today space exploration is no longer an idyllic dream but a practical reality. It is clear that our future, our ambitious goals and our plans depend more on what we achieve in space exploration than on any other branch of science.

There is a rising demand for space technology and global communication systems. At the dawn of space exploration people may not have realised the enormous opportunities created by space exploration. There was some idea, perhaps, of what lay ahead but life has put everything in its place.

It is no coincidence that space is a priority area of our economic development. Space technology is one of the so-called five presidential priorities. I believe that is absolutely right, both because of the importance space has in our lives, our achievements in space and I mean our country’s achievements, and in the sense of the potential opportunities that are created by space for the current and future generations.

Senior foreman at the Izhevsk Radio Plant Nina Borisova was awarded the title Honoured Worker of the Space Industry of the Russian Federation. (Credit: Russian government)

There are many young people among those who are engaged in space exploration. This does not mean just those who fly into space. I occasionally meet with a lot of people who are connected with space exploration in one way or another. Incidentally, two months ago, on Science Day, I presented awards to young scientists in this very hall, including for work that is related to space. It was a great pleasure, to be honest, because these were very young people who were extremely competent and very progressive. I hope that their research will define the development of space industry for the next 20 to 30 years. By the way, I also issued instructions to develop a special deep space programme, because without such ambitious plans our space industry will have no future.

Today we have been joined by the legends of Russian space exploration: the members of the first cosmonaut squad, who launched the space age together with Yury Gagarin: Valery Bykovsky, Valentina Tereshkova, Alexei Leonov, Boris Volynov, Viktor Gorbatko and Vladimir Shatalov. There are also the veterans of our space industry, Leonid Gusev and Boris Balmont. They belong to a generation of designers who were at the outset of it all: they created the first manned spacecraft together with Sergei Korolev.

I have a very enjoyable duty to perform today: I will present the Gold Star Medals of Hero of Russia to test-cosmonauts Mikhail Korniyenko, Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Skripochka. They spent a lot of time in orbit and conducted many experiments, even helped fight the wildfires that raged in our country last summer.

A number of our esteemed friends have been granted the Order for Services to the Fatherland, IV degree, including test-cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Kotov. They carried out research that was of fundamental importance for the development of science and technology in our country.

I have already said that from the outset, despite the competition that existed at the time and still remains – that is normal, progress is a result of competition – space exploration united humanity, and in this sense it was fated to promote close international cooperation. Today, 15 states are involved in the ISS project alone.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev with former U.S. astronaut Tom Stafford. (Credit: Russian government)

I have signed the relevant documents and established a special Medal for Merits in Space Exploration. I would like to present it to our friends from the United States, Japan, Slovakia, Germany, France, Belgium, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. The executive order I have signed awards this medal to all foreign astronauts who participated in space flights with us, as well as to Russian cosmonauts.

I would like to welcome all those who today represent the many thousands of companies and institutions in our country connected with space exploration. This holiday does not celebrate only those who are at the forefront, those who become the heroes of media reports and stories, but also those whose work is less noticeable. There are great many such people and they will join us in celebrating our national holiday, the Cosmonautics Day and the anniversary of Yury Gagarin’s flight into space.

Dear friends, I would like to wish everyone success, good spirits and health.