Raise a Glass to the Brave

Given yesterday’s anniversary, there’s only thing I can write about.  Only one thing worth the words, or the sentiment: Yuri Gagarin.

Now, the first iteration of this post moved past Gagarin and became a piece about the divides of nations that have prevented that brave, brave man from achieving the level of recognition he deserves.  It became about the rivalry and adversarial relationship between the US and Russia.

It became, in the end about the futile waste and foolishness that saw a brave, brave man ignored by two-thirds of the world.  Oh sure, that man was named a Hero of the Soviet Union…but who in the US or Western Europe, or that vast majority of Asia that lies outside of old USSR borders, remembers jack shit about him?

“Yuri who?” is all you’re likely to get if you bring up his name to the next person at the bar…

For those who have forgotten — or who never knew — let me remind you: a full month before Alan Shepherd flew Freedom 7 on a fifteen-minute-ish suborbital flight, Yuri Gagarin became not just the first human into space, but also the first to orbit the Earth.  A US astronaut would not follow into a similar orbit for damned near a year, when John Glenn flew Friendship 7 through three full orbits.

Today, we make far too much of “firsts.”  The first left-handed tailor to use right-handed scissors.  The first idiot to piss on an electric fence.  We celebrate the most trivial of firsts like they were the first summit of Everest…

…or the first human into space.

Just put your mind back into that morning: Thousands of tons of highly explosive fuel were set to propel a basically untested craft into an environment completely and totally inimical to life.  The courage of that first man to strap himself into that thing…

The courage to put aside thoughts of his wife and kids…

The courage to nod and give a thumb’s up, knowing death rode just a few feet behind him…

Look, let’s be honest: the Soviet Union is not a country folks look back to for inspiration or reassurance, or competence, even.  But the Russian men and women of courage?  Those who — in the terms of one of my favorite books — had the Right Stuff?

Raise a glass, then, to Yuri Gagarin.  Raise a glass to one of those few men so brave — or so crazy — that they extended the boundaries of our entire species.

Oh and, by the way, if the first human-crewed ship we send to Mars is NOT named the Gagarin, there’s something freaking wrong with us!

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