White House marks Gagarin anniversary

11th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

The White House on Monday congratulated Russia on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic first manned spaceflight -- but noted tongue-in-cheek that America got to the Moon first.

White House spokesman Jay Carney seemed momentarily taken off-guard when asked by a Russia journalist whether there would be a special message from Washington on the anniversary, which falls on Tuesday.

"I wish I had (a) great one-liner, in Russian or in English, but I don't. I'm not sure what we have on that," Carney said.

"But we certainly congratulate the Russian people on that historic accomplishment," he said, noting as a former Time magazine reporter in Moscow he understood the way Gagarin was revered in Russia.

And in a humorous aside, somewhat more tepid than the rhetoric that raged between the United States and the Soviet Union during the once heated Cold War space race, Carney quipped "we got to the Moon first."

Once he returned to Earth after his short flight, Gagarin became a national hero and an important political symbol at the height of the Cold War.

Russia is pulling out all the stops to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic mission on April 12, 1961 despite a string of recent setbacks hitting its modern space program.

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.

© 2011 AFP

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