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A statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, has been unveiled in London.

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The statue outside the British Council’s headquarters in the Mall, Westminster, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight.

Its unveiling by Prince Michael of Kent and the cosmonaut’s daughter Elena Gagarina comes 50 years to the day after Gagarin met with Queen as part of his visit to the UK in 1961.

A gift from the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), the statue shows Gagarin standing on a globe in his space suit and is a copy of an original 1984 work which is located in Russia.

The statue will stand in the Mall for the next 12 months, the site having been chosen to reflect Gagarin’s achievement. It faces the statue of Captain Cook on the opposite side of the Mall and is close to the statue of Navigation in the wall of Admiralty Arch.

Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council, said: “We are delighted to welcome this statue of Yuri Gagarin to London and to celebrate what was an extraordinary breakthrough for mankind.

“Russia and the UK are at their best when working together culturally and economically. Placing this statue in London is just one example of the goodwill and co-operation that exists between our countries.”

Elena Gagarina said: “I am very proud to be unveiling a statue to my father in a city that welcomed him so warmly 50 years ago; and delighted that the spirit of adventure and the imaginative leap into the unknown which his flight exemplified are being honoured by Londoners today.”

Universities and science minister David Willetts said: “The statue unveiled today is a fitting memorial to a true pioneer of our time, and also serves as an emblem to the greater collaboration with the Russian space agency agreed during my visit to Moscow earlier this year.

“The UK Russia Year of Space will see our countries working together on exciting research and education projects, and I hope this statue further inspires our next generation of space scientists.”

Yuri Gagarin was 27 when he went into space on board Vostok 1, his space capsule travelling at 27,400 kilometres per hour and orbiting the Earth in 108 minutes.

On landing, he became the most famous man on the planet but died in a plane crash aged just 34.

In addition to the statue, the British Council is showing an exhibition, entitled Gagarin in Britain, on the cosmonaut’s life and the early Soviet space programme.

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