Moscow has accused US diplomats of failing to acknowledge Soviet spaceflight achievements during commemorations held in honor of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who became the first human to orbit the Earth 60 years ago this week.
The US State Department’s Russian-language Facebook page posted a short message on Monday commemorating what it called the “anniversary of peoples’ stay in space,” and paid tribute to “international cooperation facilitated by space exploration.” Alongside the statement was a graphic featuring an American astronaut performing a spacewalk.
The head of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, lashed out angrily at the post. Writing on Twitter later that day, he called the officials “a**holes,” adding that “superpowers don’t behave like this.”
On Tuesday, the Russian Embassy in Washington added its voice to the row, claiming that the State Department had “again demonstrated memory loss regarding the history of space exploration” and accusing the diplomats of distorting Gagarin’s memory.
“Our forgetful colleagues can find the bust of the space pioneer at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Sculptures of Yuri Gagarin also were erected in Cleveland, Colorado Springs, New York City, Houston and Chicago,” the envoys said. “Thousands of Americans, including astronauts and NASA personnel, visit these sites every year to honor the memory of the Soviet cosmonaut.”
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Just last week, the Embassy noted, a NASA astronaut had been ferried up to the International Space Station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft named after Gagarin. “Let’s hope that these facts will help American diplomats in the future not to be shy to say out loud the name of the first cosmonaut on Earth,” Moscow’s representatives concluded.
A series of commemorations were held throughout the former USSR and across the world to mark the Soviet-Russian cosmonaut’s maiden voyage into the stars. On April 12, 1961, his Vostok-1 spacecraft blasted off from a launch pad in the desert of Kazakhstan, before orbiting the Earth once. He landed in a Russian potato field, much to the surprise of local farmers, just 108 minutes later.
The mission marked the first major milestone in the space race between Moscow and Washington as Cold War rivals. However, since the fall of the Soviet Union, the two nations have largely cooperated on international projects aimed at the peaceful development of space travel. NASA paid tribute to Gagarin on Monday, saying that “as we reflect on his accomplishment today, we look ahead to the future of human space flight as we prepare to send humans back to the Moon.”
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