The Greeting of the First Cosmonaut

Mykhaylo Khmelko  Oil on Canvas 1962

On April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel to space.  At just 27 years old, the Soviet Cosmonaut was launched from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in the Vostok I.  Although an accomplished pilot, the space capsule was designed to fly completely on automatic control or ground control due to the lack of information on how a human would react to weightlessness.  He was to switch to manual control only in case of emergency.

The journey to orbit the Earth one time was only 108 minutes long, but it launched Yuri Gagarin to superstardom.  The handsome pilot was immediately a hero and heartthrob to millions.  Tragically, the young pilot would die only a few years later at age 34 during a routine training mission.  He traveled to space only one time.

Mykhaylo Khmelko was a Kiev born oil painter known for his Socialist Realism paintings.  He’s sometimes criticized for “exploiting” Nationalist sentiment by painting large works depicting important moments in Soviet history and is often considered a “party painter” because of the number of official commissions he obtained, which eventually led to being awarded two Stalin Prizes.

I tend to just look at him as a historical or current events painter.  For the most part, he accurately portrays the events and depicts the feeling of the country at the time.  What I particularly like about this painting is the smile on Gagarin’s face and the sheer number of people in the crowd, all with excited expressions.

After the flight, many people around the world at the time felt a sense of disappointment.  Of course, some were disappointed the Russians had excelled in the space race and were concerned for the future.  Others, however, felt more disappointed in the reaction by the US and the West over the great accomplishment.  This was a time to celebrate humankind and the advancement of all people.  It could have been seen as a symbol to rally around, a step toward peace.  Unfortunately, it just added fuel to the Cold War fire.

Today, we remember Yuri Gagarin and all those men and woman of all nationalities who have helped our little planet reach beyond our atmosphere and into space.  History shows that it takes everyone working together to accomplish the great feat of space travel.  Just take a look at the INTERNATIONAL Space Station.  Happy Yuri Gagarin Day!


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