PARIS, April 12. /TASS/. The exploit of the world’s first cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin who went into space exactly on this day 55 years ago will remain in the memory of humankind forever, believes French astronaut Michel Tognini.
As he spoke to TASS on the occasion of the International Day of Human Space Flight, which is observed globally on April 12 upon a decision of the UN General Assembly, he called Gagarin "a courageous trailblazer."
"Gagarin made the most important and difficult step," Tognini said. "Whatever the discoveries that will be made in the future, his exploit will always remain in human memory."
A Brigadier General of the French Air Force and Commander of the Order of the Honorary Legion, he believes that Gagarin’s deed set the course to his own life, too.
"I was a school kid when a report on Gagarin’s flight came," Tognini said. "I was shocked then by the courage and valor of the Russian hero, who had ventured a step forward into the unknown."
Tognini was the third Frenchman to go into space after Jean-Lou Chretien and Patrick Baudry. He admits that the liftoff and the return of the space capsule to the Earth will always be the strongest lifetime impressions for him.
Like many cosmonauts and astronauts, he came to space research through aviation. He finds is to be quite emblematic that he received assignment to the legendary Normandie-Niemen Air Force regiment upon graduation from the Academy of the Air Force in 1973.
During World War II, Normandie-Niemen was dispatched to the Soviet front at General De Gaulle’s order and it fought there against the Third Reich’s Luftwaffe side by side with Soviet Air Force regiments.
"I took our regiment’s emblem on my first space flight with me," Tognini said.
He describes preparations at the Cosmonauts Training Center in the Star City near Moscow for his first flight, which he made aboard the Soyuz TM-15 ship in 1992, as the "the best school of cosmonautics". He got assistance in preparations for the mission from Soviet cosmonauts Alexei Leonov, Alexander Serebrov, Anatoly Solovyov, and Vladimir Titov.
"Leonov personally tested my command of the Russian language," Tognini said.
"The day of Gagarin’s flight is a common holiday for all the cosmonauts and astronauts," said the general, whose CV also features a flight on the Columbia shuttle. "I’ve celebrated on this day in Moscow, in Houston and in France. My friends and I will certainly mark the 55th anniversary since the first liftoff into space."