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Moscow Monuments to Space Travel and Space Pioneers

Moscow was named Europe’s Leading Heritage Destination by World Travel Awards 2020. There are many sights and unique places, which history is connected not only with Moscow, but with the Earth. For example, monuments dedicated to human exploration of outer space. Let's get to know them better.

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Gagarin’s ‘Let’s go!’

In spring 1961, people in literally every Soviet city took to the streets to celebrate the first manned trip to outer space. The dream of travelling to other worlds and other planets had suddenly turned from a fairy tale into an achievable goal; the way had been paved. On 14 April, Yuri Gagarin was welcomed to the Kremlin in Moscow. A newsreel of the time shows Gagarin's open-top Chaika car speeding through the city, with happy citizens standing by the road waving flags and flowers. Gagarin's route from Vnukovo to the city centre took in Kievskoe Highway, Leninsky Prospekt and Yakimanka. When the space pioneer died in a test flight accident seven years later, it was decided to name the square at Kaluga Gate after him and erect a monument there.

While there was a proposal made to run a public fund-raiser with involvement from ordinary people, the authorities did not appreciate the gesture and organised it themselves.

The monument to Gagarin was unveiled in 1980. The 38-metre high column rises like a pillar of fire underneath the figure of an astronaut stretched out with his arms at sides. He looks ready to take off himself and rush headlong to the stars. At the foot of the monument is a model of the Vostok spacecraft Gagarin flew in. This unique monument is made of titanium, the same material used to create interstellar ships.
Address: Ploshchad Gagarina

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Humanity's desire to travel to other planets has always had a poetic aspect to it, like the desire to find the last uncovered spots on the map and discover its most hidden corners. It's no coincidence that the pedestal of the monument is inscribed with Nikolai Gribachyov's words:

"And the reward for our effort is
That through darkness and outrage,
We gave these flaming wings of spirit
To our country and our age."

The base of the monument serves to illustrate these words, depicting the people who contributed to the exploration of space: engineers, scientists and designers.

This monument could have looked quite different and could even have been situated somewhere other than VDNKh. When the competition to create it was announced in the late 1950s, the jury was swamped with applications. There were almost four hundred entries to choose from. The winner was the People's Creator project, with its rocket motif piercing the sky atop its reverse trail. There was one problem: it didn't fit in the chosen site of Sparrow Hills. A simpler and bigger spot was found near the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (VDNKh). The only thing left to do was decide how to implement the idea and liven up the monument by evoking the effect of a burning rocket plume. At first, the creators wanted to cover it with translucent glass and provide inner illumination. Then designer Sergei Korolyov proposed using titanium. He provided the required amount of the metal and even supervised the work personally. The monument finally appeared at VDNKh, perfectly visible from afar thanks to its height of over a hundred metres.
Address: Alleya Kosmonavtov

My rockets up

The Cosmos pavilion at VDNKh is home to a model of one of the most important technologies for getting spacecraft into orbit. The Vostok rocket took numerous 'Vostok' and 'Luna' series devices and artificial satellites into space. The rocket was also used for the first manned flight into space in 1961. In 1967, it was decided that the Vostok deserved a monument. They didn't reinvent the wheel: the monument is an unadorned replica of the original.

The 25-tonne model was made in Samara and installed at VDNKh in 1967 as part of the festivities to mark the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. However, either due to the unstable voltage of the power grid or the sheer stubbornness of the rocket itself, the Vostok couldn't be placed vertically at first — one of the cables had burnt out. But in the end, the compressors started working and the carrier slowly took the right position. Visitors to VDNKh stared at Vostok in awe: this wondrous vessel could align itself both horizontally and vertically, as if getting ready for liftoff. In 1985, it was replaced by a new model of another series. Today, the Cosmos pavilion also houses a replica of the Buran orbital shuttle not far from Vostok. The interior supposedly looks just like an actual spacecraft.

Interestingly, a backup rocket intended to replace the operating one in the event of an accident also became a monument eventually. It can be found at the Museum of the History of Cosmonautics.
Address: ploshchad Promyshlennosti

Best friend and explorer

With her funny muzzle and triangular ears, Laika the dog looked like hundreds and thousands of other dogs. But she was no ordinary dog. This cutie was the first living creature to make an orbital flight. On 3 November 1957, she was sent on a journey that scientists knew was going to be a one-way trip. She survived the launch, but the designers of the spacecraft failed to take into account the vessel's imperfect thermal regulation system, and Laika died of overheating. In 2008, near the Institute for Military Medicine where the experiment was prepared, there appeared a monument of a dog standing on an open palm. Perhaps it represents part of a spacecraft, or perhaps people still feel sorry for the death of this courageous explorer many years later.
Address: Petrovskaya Alleya, 12A

Ground control, do you read me?

A worker with a characterful face holding a model of Earth's first artificial satellite in his right hand — so looks one of the world's first monuments to space exploration. It was erected near Rizhskaya metro station in 1958. Perhaps unexpectedly, the piece quotes the novel 'The Andromeda Nebula' by Ivan Efremov: "In his right hand he held a hammer. With his left hand he lifted a sparkling ball with four antennae spacing up high into the pale equatorial sky." The monument is dedicated to the labour, ingenuity and courage of the creators of Earth's first artificial satellites.

Somewhat fittingly, the creators of the monument had a difficult time working on it. First, the satellite has four antennas instead of three. Second, though the pedestal has an inscription dedicated to the creators of the first artificial satellite, the sculpture took its place a little later.
Address: Rizhskaya metro station

Star trek

A month before the launch of Earth's satellite, a monument called 'To the Stars' appeared in a park near the Soviet Army Theatre. It depicts a man holding a rocket in his hands, sending it into the sky with a powerful thrust like an ancient Greek hero. The Soviet satellite had already sent its call signals to Flight Control, but Gagarin was yet to say his famous 'Let's go!', and the whole world was living in anticipation of the new space age. Architect Grigory Postnikov encapsulated this spirit with great precision: the desire to achieve the impossible, to step beyond the ordinary realities is what has motivated researchers, physicists and designers again and again to draw, design and dream of getting closer to the stars.
Address: Yekaterininsky Park

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