Greetings from the Moscow airport. I've been in Russia for the past few days, accompanying space journalist Miles O'Brien and crew, who are here working on a space-related documentary project. Last night, April 12, 2011, we attended a gala state celebration inside the Kremlin walls honoring the 50th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's space flight. Gagarin was the first person on earth to go into space.
President Dmitry Medvedev opened the evening with a speech about the importance of Russia's space program. Under his leadership, Russia has increased its space budget and is planning to build a new cosmodrome in Russia, cheaper and closer for Russia than the current facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. During the Soviet era, Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union; now, Russia must lease the Baikonur facility at 115 million dollars a year.
"Russia must preserve its preeminence in space," Medvedev said. "We were the first to fly in space and have had a great number of achievements and must not lose our advantage."
Following the president's speech, a glitzy, space-themed, three-hour patriotic show of talent: a Cirque-de-Soleil-style acrobatics number and laser light show; Russian pop stars (and foreign acts with big Russian followings) performing odes to fallen cosmonauts, in front of video montages of midcentury space footage and golden wheat fields. The evening ended with a military choir and breakdancing children dressed in spacesuits.
The crowd included a wide array of space luminaries, ex-cosmonauts, state officials, and top military brass. In attendance: the first man to walk in space, cosmonaut Alexey Leonov; scientist and cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev (who has spent more time in space than any other human); famed ex-spy Anna Chapman (snapshot at left); and six of the seven private citizens who paid to travel in space.
A live update from Miles for the PBS NewsHour is below [direct YouTube link], with more photos from the event. A note on the PBS shoot: we ended up becoming very well acquainted with plainclothes KGB agents during the course of this quick shoot.
Related Boing Boing post: "Video: Cosmonaut's Day and Yuri Gagarin gala at the Kremlin."
More on the evening's news and festivities at the Moscow Times.
(Photos: Xeni Jardin. Text: Miles O'Brien and Xeni Jardin).