I shook the hand of the man who made space history

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Fifty years ago, on April 12, 1961, a 27-year Russian rocketed into space.

One hour and 48 minutes later, after a single orbit of our planet, Yuri Gagarin became the first person to journey into space. It was an historic moment.

I once had the privilege of shaking Gagarin’s hand. As someone said, he had a smile that lit up the darkness of the cold war.

The genius behind this flight, Sergei Korolev, also sent up the first woman and the first two-man crew, besides directing the first space walk. Quite an impressive CV.

But the Americans were not amused by Gagarin’s success. Because apart from sport, space conquest was the only area in which Russia could – and did – prove itself superior to the USA.