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Yuri Gagarin - His part in my career

John Zarnecki

This lecture, celebrating 50 years of manned space flight looks at the past, present and future plans and possibilities and the 'Gagarin Effect'

06 April 2011  Transport channel

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About the presentation

On 12 April 1961 the Vostok 1 mission launched Yuri Gagarin on the first ever human spaceflight. Gagarin's flight lasted only 108 minutes, but its impact was immense, leading - ultimately - to such achievements as the Apollo missions to the Moon, the Space Shuttle, and the Mir and International space stations.

As a result of these, in the 21st century new endeavours in human spaceflight are under development, for example private space travel, commercial space transportation and, in the longer term, maybe human exploration of the solar system.

This lecture, celebrating 50 years of manned space flight looks at the past, present and future plans and possibilities.

Although these amazing scientific and technical achievements purely were undoubtedly spurred on by the original competition between the two space powers of the era, the USA and the then-USSR, there is another, more human, story to be told, that of the 'Gagarin Effect'.

When Yuri Gagarin returned safely from space he travelled the world promoting the USSR, its scientific and technological achievements and the myriad future possibilities for space travel. Arguably more important, though, is the inspirational effect that Gagarin had. He became a global celebrity overnight and wherever he went huge crowds of people would throng the streets to see this man who, for them, personified the best in humanity and its curiosity and drive to explore. Some of these people were children and, for some of them, the Gagarin Effect was to inspire them through the rest of their lives, either directly or indirectly.


Dr John Zarnecki, Professor of Space Science, Open University

John studied Physics at the University of Cambridge, followed by a PhD at the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University College London.

Subsequently, he has had over thirty years experience of space research spanning a number of space missions, including sounding rockets, Earth-orbiting missions and interplanetary flights, at British Aerospace, the University of Kent and now the Open University. These have included a range of high profile space missions including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Giotto mission which flew past Halley's comet and the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn & Titan.

He is a Vice-President of the Royal Astronomical Society and a member of a variety of national and international bodies in the field of Space Research. He is also the holder of awards from NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency) and inaugural winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Individual Achievement in UK Space Research in 2005.

He is currently involved in developing several instruments for possible future space missions to Mars, the Moon, Titan and Europa.

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