When Gagarin was launched to become the first human in space, his first words after lift-off were ‘Poyekhali!’, Russian for ‘Let’s go!’
The phrase takes on a different meaning 50 years later, with most of the world’s space agencies now discussing a common strategy for peaceful human and robotic space exploration, focusing on destinations within the Solar System where humans may one day live and work.
Sustainable space exploration is an opportunity for all humankind, and a challenge that no single nation can meet on its own. During the International Astronautical Congress held in the Czech Republic last year, leaders in space exploration spoke the same words: international cooperation. ESA’s Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain said the importance of Gagarin’s flight was hard to overestimate.
“His deed belongs to the history of mankind and world history of cosmonautics. It’s good that 12 April is no longer celebrated only in Russia, but now celebrated all over the world to demonstrate that Gagarin was not just a Soviet citizen but a citizen of planet Earth. Space and human spaceflight in particular have been the drivers for a specific vision, which is, that our future is global. In the next 50 years, we’ll see increased partnerships. We are going there, whether the Moon or Mars, together.”
Paolo Nespoli, ESA’s astronaut now on the ISS for his sixmonth MagISStra mission, was only four years old at the time of Gagarin’s flight. With the ISS partners, including ESA, tackling new ways to increase and optimise flight opportunities for Europe to the ISS beyond 2015, Nespoli is enthusiastic about the future of space exploration, “The first person who will travel to Mars has already been born.”