City of Houston honors two pioneers in human space exploration

Two space pioneers who served their respective countries during a bitter Cold War were honored by artwork recently dedicated at a facility that housed NASA employees who came to Houston to establish what became Johnson Space Center.

The memorials, at Houston’s Gragg Building, not only commemorate anniversaries of the flights of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and U.S. astronaut John Glenn, they also mark the international cooperation that now characterizes human spaceflight.

Glenn’s three-orbit Friendship 7 flight on Feb. 20, 1962, the third of the Mercury Program, made him the first American to go into Earth orbit. On April 12, 1961, Gagarin’s one-orbit flight on Vostok 1marked the first time a human had flown in space. The Gagarin memorial is a nine-foot bronze statue of him reaching toward space. Glenn is honored by an 8.5- by 17-foot steel panel with his image and that of his spacecraft. The pieces symbolize the collaboration between two nations and the continued partnership on the International Space Station.

Artwork honoring astronaut John H. Glenn and cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin stand at the Gragg Building, NASA’s first Houston headquarters.
Artwork honoring astronaut John H. Glenn and cosmonaut Yuri A. Gagarin stand at the Gragg Building, NASA’s first Houston headquarters.
At the Oct. 15 dedication, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, “Today, we pay tribute to Gagarin and Glenn and to all those who made human space exploration possible. The historic trips around Earth performed by both men captured the world’s imagination and made it possible for the United States and Russia to transition into an honored international partnership.”

Houston Mayor Annise Parker said, “Houston is known as Space City, and what better way to commemorate such a great moment in history than to have both artworks at NASA’s original (Houston) headquarters.”

Other speakers included Gagarin’s daughter Galina Gagarin, and grandson, Yuri Gagarin. Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak was among distinguished guests.

The artwork, given to Houston by the Moscow-based International Charity Public Fund Dialogue of Cultures - United World and the Russkiy Mir Foundation of Russia, commemorate the 51st anniversary of Gagarin’s orbit in space and as the first man in space and the 50th anniversary of Glenn’s first orbits into space.

Ruslan Bayramov, president of the International Charity Public Fund Dialogue of Cultures, expressed enthusiasm and excitement about both art pieces and past and present space exploration collaborative efforts.

“This event holds a special place in my heart, and I now consider Houston to be a second home,” Bayramov said. “The monuments truly represent wonderful accomplishments by human space exploration pioneers and cooperation between two great nations.”

The art project was overseen by Houston artist Randy Twaddle and architect Ron Witte. The Houston Arts Alliance, Metalab and TY Art installed both artworks at the Gragg Building, which now houses the city’s Parks & Recreation Department headquarters.

Ciandra Jackson/Bill Jeffs
Johnson Space Center, Houston


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Updated: 10/29/2012