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Manchester writer inspired by Gagarin travels to Moscow
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Footage courtesy of the North West Film Archive

When Yuri Gagarin returned to Earth as the first man to travel into space, he was treated like a superstar.

In 1961, soon after his epic flight, he visited Trafford Park in Manchester where he was mobbed by huge crowds.

Now, almost 50 years later, the son of one of the workers who saw him that day has made his own odyssey to Moscow.

Science fiction writer Richard Evans from Manchester went to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre to research his novel.

Imagination

As a child, Richard Evans, like any boy, was obsessed by rockets and spacemen.

And though he wasn't born at the time, his father Eugene used to talk about the day the most famous man in the world visited his factory.

Yuri Gagarin's desk
To find myself standing in Gagarin's office was a weird bit of history.
Richard Evans, writer

What Gagarin achieved truly captured the world's imagination.

Exactly three months to the day after his history-making flight, Gagarin stepped off a flight at Manchester Airport to be mobbed by thousands of people.

This was the height of the Cold War, yet Manchester City Council put on a lavish reception at the Town Hall and children stayed off school and travelled to Trafford Park wearing home-made space suits, hoping to catch a glimpse of their extra-terrestrial hero.

Today, as a writer of science fiction novels, Richard is still fascinated by the day the first man in space came to Manchester.

"It was amazing really, the guy was so well received everywhere he went."

To research Kosmonaut Zero, a retro-futurist novel set in the Soviet Union in 1968, Richard was allowed to visit the training centre Star City, where today's cosmonauts still prepare for their space missions, to get a feeling for the Soviet era of 40 years ago.

He was even given special permission to go into Gagarin's office.

Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1
Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1 before his epic flight into space

"My dad was a worker at Metro Vickers, so to find myself, 50 years on, in Gagarin's office was a weird bit of history, having had Gagarin come to Manchester to the place where my dad worked."

The subject of cosmonauts is not the usual fare for a novelist, but Richard said that is precisely why he has chosen to write about them.

"Well, we don't get books about cosmonauts.

"Communism was an attempt at utopia and I liked the idea that people made all sorts of sacrifices in the pursuit of that dream."

2011 marks the 50th anniversary of Man's first trip into space - and that memorable visit to Trafford Park.

Gagarin's massive achievement and his connections with Manchester are still being celebrated.




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