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Celebrating The Men Who Launched The Space Race With Artwork

Milestone contributions to space exploration will forever link Houston and the Soviet Union. That commonality has been marked with the dedication of artwork that honors two space pioneers from each country: Yuri Gagarin and John Glenn.


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The ceremony featured a who’s who of the space industry that joined other dignitaries at the Gragg Building in southeast Houston. The headquarters of the City of Houston’s Parks Department was the first home for human space flight, before the Johnson Space Center was built in Clear Lake City.

This is Mayor Annise Parker:

“Our manned space program started out in this building. The previous mayor launched a restoration of this building, because we wanted to make sure that we saved it for future use. But more importantly, we wanted to make sure that this important piece of our history was preserved for the future.” 

Former shuttle astronaut, now NASA Administrator, Charles Bolden said cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and astronaut John Glenn helped turn science fiction into science fact, and laid the foundation for a half-century of cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union.

“Who would’ve believed 50 years ago, at the start of the space race, that today Americans and Russians would be working side-by-side on the International Space Station, and standing in partnership to meet challenges of the future. President Obama has embraced that vision, and in his speech at the Kennedy Space Center two years ago he said and I quote, ‘What was once a global competition has long since become a global collaboration,’ unquote.”

The donated artwork is a 9 foot tall bronze statue of Gagarin reaching toward space, and a steel panel etched with the image of Glenn in his Friendship 7 Mercury spacecraft.

Following the ceremony, Mayor Parker said the front of the building is a fitting place for them.

“I’m very interested in reclaiming the history of Houston, and the fact that this building was the original headquarters for NASA is important. And this is a great setting, and we hope that it will continue to inspire our youth to reach for the stars.”

Alexander Darchev with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says the accomplishments of Gagarin and Glenn 50 years ago were challenging and heroic, and helped blaze the trail of space travel that’s now almost routine.

“The monument inaugurated today will stand as a token of cooperation between our countries, in exploring space for the benefit for all people with the prospect of deeper discoveries of the universe, and even going beyond the limits of the solar system.”

The artwork was made possible by the Moscow based International Charity Public Fund Dialogue of Cultures, and the installation was overseen by the Houston Arts Alliance, Metalab and TY Art.

View photos on Flickr

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