Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space and Google is celebrating his fantastic achievement today with a nice little doodle. Although the ‘space race’ was born out of desperation to be the kingpin of the cold war between the east and the west, the Russian pilot did not go into space as part of an international game of one-upmanship; indeed he was forced to go by the loss of his pets.
In fact the Cold War started because the Americans sent Gagarin’s pets into space and he was so outraged that he declared war on them – Cold War. Gagarin was a pacifist but he wanted America to know he was angry. Very angry. Incensed even.
It was in the 1940’s that things began to go wrong for the amiable, animal loving pilot. His beloved pet rhesus monkey Albert; a curious little soul, made his way across the Pacific to U.S. shores from where he sent Yuri a postcard telling of his arrival. He’d wanted to branch out more and life at the airbase just wasn’t fulfilling enough. Albert yearned for adventure.
It was that curiosity that proved his undoing as according to Gagarin, Albert one day mistakenly entered a V2 rocket thinking it was a banana smoothie bar and before he realised his mistake the door closed and the rocket launched into space.
The flight ended in disaster as the vessel only reached 39 miles, barely leaving the atmosphere, and poor Albert’s capsule of doom suffered a malfunction – the parachute failed and he plummeted to his untimely end.
Gagarin was forgiving at first, putting it down to Albert’s youthful exuberance, but when lightning struck a second time he knew something was amiss.
Albert II followed in the footsteps of his older brother and on V2 flight no.47 he achieved success, reaching an incredible 68 miles above the Earth.
There was no mistake this time, Albert II landed safely and immediately set about writing a book of his adventures. The book was an international best-seller and Time magazine hailed it as a work of literary genius that defined a generation. That publication sparked a clutch of animal autobiographies including Albert II’s famous simian cousin, Cheetah of Tarzan fame.
Gagarin meanwhile was outraged. Not only had he lost his first beloved Albert but now he had to live with the knowledge that Albert II had become a Hollywood icon, renowned writer and substance abuser. The money and fame had gone to his head.
The final straw for Gagarin came in 1957 when the Russian’s sent his Jack Russell, Laika into orbit. The signs had been there but Yuri, in his grief at the loss of both Alberts, missed them completely.
Laika had often worn her favourite space harness around the park, insisting she be seen in that instead of the dowdy black collar with paw prints on it. She had taken to doing her exercise regime in the public eye; push-ups and chin-ups at the local children’s playground and fetching the Frisbee so as not to look too conspicuous.
Then came the fateful day. Laika stood on the porch of their ranch wearing her space helmet and harness and announced she was leaving for other worlds. Gagarin was desperate; he begged and pleaded with her not to leave but she was adamant. Not Adam Ant. He didn’t come along until the 1980’s.
Gagarin devised a plan to win his dog back. He built his own rocket out of tin foil, yoghurt cartons and an old aluminium deck chair. He used 5 litre coke bottles as boosters and incorporated a small capsule made from a pop-up-tent in the head of the rocket which would detach once he reached orbit.
The plan seemed solid and on April 12th, 1961 he launched himself into space. The journey took just four minutes and his biceps had doubled in size by the time he reached orbit, after pumping the air into the huge coke bottles.
By some luck he found Laika floating in space. She was alive and well, and he brought her aboard his make-shift space home. She apologised for being so hasty and hoped he’d forgive her.
[adsense]He did and he was inspired by her courage. She told him that she’d packed an extra big bag of bone shaped treats which had seen her through the four years since she left Earth. She also admitted that carrying the big bag made her bum look smaller and that even though she was a legend, vanity was still a huge weakness of hers.
In their guilt and shame the Americans; under the expert guidance of Albert II, launched a rescue mission in 1969; sending Neil Armstrong and his two best friends to retrieve the Russians from the surface of the moon.
They never found them because Albert II was high on a cocktail of cocaine, MDMA and meth-amphetamine when he told NASA of his rescue plan. The cosmonauts are still up there now, but on a clear night, if you know where to look, you can see them passing overhead like a tiny, twinkling star.
Here’s to you Yuri Gagarin and your quest to save your pets.
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images: en.wikipedia.com; pbs.org; pbs.com; google.com