Ulf Merbold

ESA astronaut, STS-9, STS-42,
Soyuz TM-20
First ESA astronaut in space

“This has to be compared to the voyage of Christopher Columbus. For the Russians it had tremendous political meaning but, for Gagarin himself, it cannot be rated high enough in terms of courage.

"He was only 27 years old, but he must have understood what he was letting himself in for, to be strapped to a rocket and not know if he would come back.

"Like John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, he became a political figure and was forbidden to fly again in space. Glenn later flew on the Shuttle, but Gagarin sadly never got another chance to do what he really loved. So, his flight really was unique.”

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