On Sunday, April 14th at Heraklion’s Karavola Fountain by the Cretan Sea, Greece’s Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura and Crete’s Governor Stavros Arnaoutakis, joined four of Russia’s most distinguished cosmonauts to inaugurate Yuri Gagarin Park. An hour and a half ceremony of speeches and presentations paid tribute to the legendary cosmonaut Colonel Yuri Gagarin, who was the first person to travel into outer space aboard Vostok 1 back in 1961.
On the occasion marking the 85th year since Gagarin’s birth, Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov, Oleg Artemyev, Sergei Prokofiev, Theodoros Yurtsichin-Grammatikopoulos, and Dr. Mikhail Potapov were present at a ceremony held before 1,500 to 2,000 Crete residents, officials, and dignitaries. The cosmonauts were also joined by Crete Region’s Governor Stavros Arnaoutakis and Heraklion Mayor Vassilis Labrinos, as well as a throng of international and local media for the opening of Yuri Gagarin Park.
The event, which was an initiative promoted by Mayor Labrinos, was organized by both the Municipality of Heraklion alongside Tez Tour Greece. During the ceremonies, Minister Kountoura offered a dedication, which was followed by a blessing of the park and the initiative by his imminence, the Orthodox Church’s Archbishop Irenaios of Crete.
Thanasis Avgerinos, who coordinates the rehab programs for Russian cosmonauts in Greece, was also on hand. It was at his suggestion that the cosmonauts plant the olive trees as a gesture of the growth of friendship and peace between the Greek and Russian people. Back in 2016, Crete officials had installed the bust of the famous Gagarin, at which time two other cosmonauts were on hand for the ceremonies.
Following the speeches, presentations, and the dedication, the cosmonauts planted olive trees next to the bust of Gagarin along with special plaques with QR codes to each space traveler can be studied by future generations. Yuri Gagarin Park is situated along the shore overlooking Crete’s magnificent mountains and the Cretan Sea behind the cosmonaut’s memorial statue.
The cosmonauts, with their physicians and support teams, are in Crete for post-flight rehabilitation and recovery programs first initiated back in 2015 by Avgerinos, Roscosmos, local hoteliers and businesses, and key facilitator Minas Liapakis Director of EyeWide Digital Marketing. The Greek tourism ministry has supported the Russian cosmonaut recovery and re-adaptation programs.
The space flight of Colonel Yuri Gagarin was considered by every expert to be a suicide mission. Gagarin achieved a speed of 27.400 km per hour and reached an altitude of 327 kilometers. The relatively short flight of only 1 hour and 48 minutes required the courage and skill of a unique individual. Experts at the time gave Gagarin only a 5% chance of making a safe return to Earth’s surface. Before Gagarin’s famous journey, no one really knew if the man could survive in space.
This weekend’s ceremonies in Crete’s capital establish Yuri Gagarin Park as a symbol of peace, unity and fair play the legendary test pilot and cosmonaut would have been pleased to see. Yuri Gagarin paved the way for humankind’s endeavors in space at the moment the rocket motors of his launch vehicle ignited at liftoff. Gagarin’s words to mission control “Поехали!“(Let’s go!) echo with each extraterrestrial flight we make. His untimely death in a plane crash in 1968 was an ironic end to an amazing emissary of humanity.
On a final note, it was once said of the world-renowned hero Yuri Gagarin that he had a smile “that lit up the darkness of the Cold War.” This weekend the shining character of Gagarin lit the island of Crete with remembrance, hope, and friendship.