Moscow, Apr 12: Russia today marked 50 years since Yuri Gagarin's path-breaking first flight to space that was a major triumph for Soviet science, with President Dmitry Medvedev describing the feat as a revolutionary event that changed the world.
Medvedev said he was proud of the Soviet cosmonaut's maiden human space flight 50 years ago this day and his country still dreams of conquering other planets and flying to distant stars.
On April 12, 1961, the Vostok spacecraft took the first ever human being - Gagarin - into space.
As Russian state television broadcast archive footage of the smiling Gagarin touring the world after his exploit, Russians remembered with pride their country's achievement in space.
Medvedev hailed Gagarin's flight as a symbolic, "revolutionary" event that changed the world.
"I am proud of the fact that it was my country that made this first step," Medvedev said in an interview to China's main CCTV channel.
Gagarin's spaceship made a single orbit of the earth as the experts were not willing to take a chance due to the fact that in earlier flights by dogs the problems were registered after third-fourth orbit.
"I believe it was a truly revolutionary event, a highly symbolic one. It was a tremendous achievement of Soviet cosmonautics, which divided the world into 'before' and 'after the flight,' what has been termed the space era," Medvedev was quoted as saying in the transcript released by the Kremlin.
The maiden space flight was a major scientific victory for the USSR over its Cold War era rival the United States, which later scored a counter point by sending the first man on the moon.
Medvedev's accolades for Gagarin's space feat came amid a de-Stalinisation campaign being unrolled by his liberal camp to negate all the achievements of the Soviet period in the history of the country.
According to many Russian bloggers, even though the Kremlin could be basking in the glory of the Soviet Cosmonautics feat, at many places the abbreviation CCCP (USSR) has disappeared from the helmet of Gagarin in his photos displayed at many official expositions to mark the golden jubilee of his space flight.
In a panel discussion aired last night by state-run Rossiya - Kultura TV channel, it was noted that in 1990s the Soviet space industry inherited by post-communist Russia was 'systematically' dismantled and took great efforts (after Putin's assuming power in 2000) to preserve some of its advanced achievements.
In his interview to Chinese TV, Medvedev said Russian space dream lives on although they have become less idealistic and more pragmatic.
"We still cherish a hope, however, that sometime we will be able to conquer other planets, other stellar systems," he said.
Medvedev has ordered a 50 gun salute tonight at 10 PM Moscow time to mark the 50th anniversary of the maiden human space flight of Gagarin.
The UN General Assembly last Thursday adopted a resolution initiated by Russia declaring April 12 as "International Day of Human Space Flight".
Besides Gagarin, Russia is also paying tributes to the man who created the rocket that took him into space -- chief Soviet rocket engineer Sergei Korolev.
Declassified documents released last week threw light on some of the mysterious aspects of Gagarin's life, and his death.
The documents said that his jet likely manoeuvred sharply to avoid a weather balloon, prompting it to crash in a region outside Moscow and killing Gagarin and his instructor. PTI