Eastern European kids love celebrating World Cosmonaut Day! Because of the Cold War, we grew up thinking it was very important to excel at technological development. We had to be prepared to defend ourselves against an American attack. We also had to hold the moral high-ground over Americans. Petty consumerism was so bourgeois, we would go explore SPACE. Gagarin, the first astronaut, was the poster child of Soviet supremacy. Together with Valentina Tereshkova, they became every little communist child's role models. We all truly thought we could grow up and be cosmonauts.
Gagarin and Tereshkova's images are imprinted in every Eastern European kid's mind but during communism, those images of course were produced by the state and used as propaganda. In recent years, various archives have been opened up and I have started coming across rare, unseen images of various Soviet royalty... in less than dignified moments. The image above is of Gagarin lighting what looks like a joint. Or perhaps, just a cigarette... but still... it would have been unthinkable to see this kind of photo before 1989.
The photo was taken at an outing in 1963, out in the country where Gagarin spent the day with a bunch of his guy friends (including other Soviet cosmonauts Alexey Leonov, Boris Volynov and Victor Gorbatko) .... having a picnic, learning to water-ski and just hanging out. Not especially graceful, I must add. You can see the rest of this amazing collection of photos at English Russia.
If you are a fellow Gagarin fan, you should take a look at my World Cosmonaut Day post from last year. It features Gagarin and Tereshkova, sipping cocktails.