Shoot For The Moon. Even If The Cosmonaut Misses He’ll Land Among The Stars

Think of your hero today. Are they an actor, actress, musician, family member, or athlete? Well the proud Soviet citizen of the 1960s has a clear answer to that difficult and very personal question. The Russian Cosmonaut became the nations champion, paraded around the country as a hero who triumphed against the United States.

Why were these astronauts heroes to the everyday Russian citizen? They embodied what was most ideal in a Soviet. Cosmonauts like Yuri Gagarin (the first man in orbit and pictured below) went to where no one else had gone before, to space. Men like Yuri and women like Valentina Tereshkova (the first woman in space) became icons and utopian symbols for the Soviet Union in their race against the United States.

Yuri Gagarin was one of these symbols or icons for the Soviet Union. He became the first human to orbit the Earth on 12 April 1961 making him a hero to many. This was clearly evident and portrayed when he paraded around Moscow after his flight. “Mausoleum is a huge crimson banner with a portrait of Lenin with the words: ‘Forward to the victory of communism!’… A solemn ceremony begins, dedicated to the great world-historic victory of the Soviet people, the success of the world’s first space flight by our dear compatriot comrade Yuri Gagarin.”[1] This clearly shows the meaning behind the flight. It was not just a small step for man, but a giant leap for the Soviet spirit. The government used Yuri as a stepping-stone to show how the Soviet project was prevailing and nothing would stop their success. It is plain to see how this affected the culture and attitudes of the entire communist nation. It had raced the United States and won. Those inside the country must have felt that they would prevail against all odds.

(Poster Source)

[1] Moskva, Vecherniaia. “The Capital Meets Its Hero.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. September 29, 2015.


7 thoughts on “Shoot For The Moon. Even If The Cosmonaut Misses He’ll Land Among The Stars”

  1. I wonder if the Soviet Union wasn’t in a space race with the United States at this time if people still would have thought of the Cosmonauts as heroes or if they would be frustrated that government money was being spent on going to space rather than helping the poor on the ground?


  2. I really enjoyed your post! It makes perfect sense that the people in the Soviet Union would be so proud and supportive in the space race when they were beating the U.S. I think this shows how passionate the people in the USSR were about Soviet progress. I also am interested in the same question that Catherine posed above. I wonder how people would have felt had they not been racing against the United States.


    1. Brett can weigh in here too, but I’m going to say that the advent of space travel was thrilling and a bit controversial in both countries. We take space flight and the space age for granted now — it feels normal and “natural” to us because this is all we’ve known. But imagine what it must have been like to realize for the very first time that people really could go somewhere beyond the earth — and return. Talk about mind expanding!


  3. You picked a really cool topic. It is really neat listening to my dad talking about being a kid when we landed on the moon. He was a teenager at the time and it was a huge deal to him and his friends. I can imagine how impressive this was to entire generations of young communists and how they came to view the system they lived in.


  4. Brett, I really enjoyed your post and your discussion about Soviet idolization of Cosmonauts. The steps the Soviets took in putting humankind in space, first nonetheless, was bound to be a point of strong national pride and an inspiration to win the ideological war being waged. I enjoyed the poster you attached to your post, as it really captures the “larger than life” persona the Soviets attached to Cosmonauts and solidifies the “ideal Soviet” image as well. Great job!


  5. I like your title, it is eye-catching and represents the post well. You said it well, Yuri Gagarin represented the progress and success of the Soviet Union. After all, space flight is an astounding accomplishment, especially for a state that was in a life or death struggle a handful of years earlier. Solid post!


  6. Everyone needs an ideal to aspire towards, and in a society where everyone was supposed to be the same, the man worthy of being the first person in orbit seems like a worthy idol. I wonder why he was chosen over everyone else? Was he well connected or was he just the best pilot they had?


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