London has a new monument to Yuri Gagarin. The statue was just unveiled this summer, and when I was in town last week, some friends were kind enough to take me around to see it. Personally, I feel like you can't just stand in front of an epic Socialist Realism-style statue with a pleasant smile and your hands folded neatly at your waist.
What's particularly interesting about this statue to me, as an American, is that it commemorates Gagarin's triumphant visit to London, post-space flight. I'm so used to the American textbook version of modern history, that it honestly had not occurred to me that Gagarin would have visited other, non-Soviet countries after his trip to space. The way that story is presented to us, it's all about how terrified all the free people of the world were by the Russian lead in the space race. It's interesting to run across this different perspective where Londoners—even ones who wouldn't have been particularly pleased with the Soviet Union itself—could still celebrate the achievement of the first space flight with more excitement than fear.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.