Russia to honour first man in space Gagarin
Russia will on Tuesday fete the memory of first man in space Yuri Gagarin whose pioneering mission remains the crowning accomplishment of its space programme and a major source of national pride.
Russia is pulling out all the stops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's historic space mission on April 12, 1961 despite a string of recent setbacks hitting its modern space programme.
President Dmitry Medvedev will travel to the space mission control centre outside Moscow to speak to the International Space Station via a video link, a Kremlin official said.
Later in the day he will bestow awards on cosmonauts and space veterans and speak on the occasion at the Grand Kremlin Palace.
His senior partner in the ruling tandem, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was set to meet Russian and Ukrainian cosmonauts in Ukraine where he will travel for talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.
"It will be impossible to bypass this theme on this day," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Sending the first man into space -- which gave the Soviet Union its greatest Cold War propaganda victory over the United States -- and launching the first sputnik satellite four years earlier are among key triumphs of the Soviet space programme.
Russian space agency Roskosmos has invited some 40 heads and representatives of foreign space agencies, Russian and Soviet-era cosmonauts and pioneering space travellers from other countries to participate in celebrations at the Moscow-based Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics on Monday.
"We have invited all the first astronauts of all the countries who have ever travelled on the Soyuz," Roskosmos spokesman Alexander Vorobyov told AFP.
Russia's Soyuz craft will later this year become the sole means for taking humans to the ISS when NASA takes its shuttles out of service, leaving the United States to rely on Russia.
In a break with tradition in a country which unlike its space rivals never gives names to its spacecraft, Moscow named a spaceship after Gagarin which on Thursday brought a new team to the ISS.
"This is no doubt a tribute to the feat of a man who changed the world," Putin said this week, referring to the country-wide celebrations.
Russia rents its main launchpad at Baikonur from Kazakhstan from where Gagarin went on his historic mission in 1961 but this year it begins construction of its own spaceport to be located in the Far East region of Amur near China.
Putin said in July that the government had earmarked 800 million dollars to kick off construction of the new cosmodrome, Vostochny (Eastern), and the launch of the first manned spacecraft is scheduled for 2018.
The country's modern space programme has however been dogged by a series of setbacks.
In December, Russia suffered one of its most embarrassing space mishaps of recent years when three navigation satellites crashed into the ocean after launch, and the most recent launch for the ISS was delayed by a week due to a technical problem.
Pressure is mounting on the space agency's chief, Anatoly Perminov, to step down, and his resignation is expected after the festivities are over.
Despite a string of high-profile problems, Putin told the government this week that Russia should maintain its lead in space exploration, noting it would send a probe to Phobos, one of Mars' two moons, this year.
After a lengthy break the country plans to return to interplanetary research, said Putin, calling on countries participating in the ISS to band together to explore the Moon, Mars and other planets.
"On the whole, we have to expand our presence on the global space market which grew 2.5 times from 2003 and now stands at around $200 billion," he added.
© 2011 AFP