While we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first human orbital flight, it is worth remembering also the dog Laika who gave her life to show us the path to space.
50 years after the first spaceflight, the epic story of Yuri Gagarin today has a melancholic ring. With the last flight of the space shuttle planned for this year, it may be that the human adventure in space ends exactly half a century after that it had started. To travel to space we need resources that we don't have any longer and that is the unavoidable result of peak oil and of the start of the decline of our civilization. But everything goes in cycles and everything that happens had to happen. Who knows, though, one day we may dream of space again.
To commemorate Gagarin, I would like to propose a poem about him written by the Russian author Evgeny Yevtushenko that I am taking from Marco Pagani's blog "Ecoalfabeta." Curiously, it seems that it has never been translated into English; so I am translating the first section of it (from Italian: it will not be a perfect translation but I hope it conveys the meaning of the poem).
I am Gagarin, son of the Earth
Evgeny Yevtushenko, 1969
I am Gagarin.
The first to fly,
and you flew after me.
I have been given
forever to sky and earth
as son of humankind.
In that april
the faces of the stars, freezing without caressing
covered with musk and rust
for the red freckles of Smolensk
risen up to the sky.
But freckles are gone.
How terrible it is,
being nothing more than a bronze, a shadow,
not being able to caress the grass or a child
nor to hear the squeaking of a little gate in a garden.
Under the black scar of a postal stamp
I am smiling to you
with a smile long gone.
But look at postcards and stamps
and you will understand:
I am flying.
(rest of the poem, in Italian)