Among the various monuments in Russia to its space program and cosmonauts, one of the most striking is composed of titanium and looms over a city square. The sculpture is that of Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space.
The massive statue towers 141 feet (43 meters) above Gagarina Square on the long, wide boulevard of Leninsky Prospekt. At the base of the statue is a replica of Gagarin’s Vostok re-entry capsule, complete with an inscription commemorating his flight on April 12, 1961. The striated column that culminates in his powerful figure, surveying the earth and the cosmos, was crafted to resemble rocket exhaust. The statue itself was crafted from 238 different cast segments.
After his successful orbit around the earth, Gagarin became an international celebrity, as it was still the height of the Space Race. He received numerous accolades for his journey and was awarded the title, “Hero of the Soviet Union.” At the time, it was the highest honor one could receive in the country.
The monument to Yuri Gagarin was unveiled in June 1980 for the Moscow Olympics—the same Olympics that were boycotted by the United States and other countries due to Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan. What makes this sculpture so striking is that it towers amid a plethora of stores, bustling traffic, and people routinely going through their daily lives, as the statue represents humankind’s ability to escape the mundane and explore the universe.