The Road to Cosmos is Paved with Silk Long Johns

The Road to Cosmos is Paved with Silk Long Johns

Yuri Gagarin, the First Man in Space. April 12, 1961. Photo from: Archives of Rocket and Space Corporation Energia —

Let’s Roll!

On April 12, 1961, the Soviet sputnik “Vostok” (“East”) carried Yuri Gagarin into space and brought him back, living proof that the Soviet Union was light-years ahead of the United States. Yes, Space Age started in my old country with Gagarin’s famous “Poyekhali! (“Let’s roll!”).

Sputnik, by the way, is one of the few words the outside world adopted from Russian, except in Russian it sounds spootnik… in case you wondered.

On April 21, 1976, my family squeaked through the crack in the Iron Curtain grudgingly unlatched under the force of intensifying domestic anguish and international pressure.

I was a teenager when Yuri Gagarin won over the world with his smile.

Yuri Gagarin, the First Man in Space. 1961. Photo from:

The rules of royal etiquette ignored, the Queen of England granted him a photo-op – rules did not apply to a space man. We did not realize then that his photos from inside the sputnik were actually taken after his return.

Life was good! Plus, posters declared “the Party solemnly proclaims: the current generation of the Soviet people will live in communism.” The cutoff date to communism (read: full-strength paradise) was set to 1980. Gagarin’s achievement generated excitement and pride that were palpable. I felt like writing a poem – I wished I could.

Suddenly, physics became the hottest subject and male wannabe physicists acquired a romantic halo. Such a catch once accompanied me to a school dance. Before each dance, my female classmates humbly approached me for permission to ask him to dance.  Oh, the sweet taste of absolute power!

Just Rewards

List of the major gifts Gagarin received after the flight (furniture and appliances). Photo from:

Recently declassified directive regarding gifts to Yuri Gagarin:

The government of the Soviet Union hereby rewards Gagarin Yuri Alexeevich and his family

15,000 rubles from the reserve fund,

Living quarters near his place of service,

Automobile “Volga”,

A 4-room apartment,



1,000 rubles to each of his two brothers and his sister.

Furniture for bedroom, dining room, children’s room, office, and kitchen.

Television set “Rubin.”

Record-player “Luxe.”

Washing machine.


Vacuum cleaner.

Floor rugs.


Bed linen – 6 sets.

Blankets – 2.

Gagarin’s parents received:

A prefab 3-room house.

Television set.


Furniture for 3 rooms.

Anticipating Every Need


A spring coat.

A light summer coat.

A rain coat.

Suits – 2 (light and dark).

Shoes – 2 pairs (black and light).

White shirts – 6.

Hats – 2.

Socks – 6 pairs.

Silk long johns – 6 pairs.

Underwear, undershirts – 6 pairs.

Handkerchiefs – 12.

Ties – 6.

Gloves – 1 pair.

Electric shaver – 1.

Two sets of military uniform (dress and regular).

Suitcases – 2.


A spring coat.

A summer coat.

A rain coat.

Dresses – 3.

Black suit.

Hats -2.

Sets of lingerie – 6.

Stockings – 6 pairs.

Shoes – 3 pairs.

Women’s purses – 2.

Gloves – 2 pairs.

Head kerchiefs – 2 (wool and  silk).

Blouses – 2.

Wool cardigans – 1. 


A children’s bed.

A crib.

Wool dresses – 4.

Coat – 2 (winter and summer).

Hats – 2 (winter and summer).

Shoes – 4 pairs.

Underclothing – 6 sets.

Dolls, toys.

Miscellaneous items.


Summer and winter coat.

Rain coat.

Dresses – 2.

Wool head kerchief.

Shoes – 2 pairs.

Underclothing – 6 sets.

Stockings – 6 pairs.

Wool cardigans – 1.


Summer and winter coat.

Rain coat.

A cap.

Underclothing – 6 sets.

Shirts – 6.

Suits – 2 (dark-grey and dark).

Shoes – 2 pairs (light and dark).

Ties – 4.

Handkerchiefs – 6.

Socks – 6 pairs.

Anticipation of every need of its heroes, from a rain coat to silk long johns, was the middle name of my Motherland.

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