Not pop or sports stars but astronauts, these were the heroes inspiring two young boys to wear NASA space suits at the Starmus Festival at the Magma Arts and Congress centre in Playa de Las Americas, Tenerife. Even a cold war general like Yuri Gagarin would have been impressed to see his legacy still uniting the world 50 years after he broke free of the earth and started the space race.
Cosmonauts, astronauts and enthusiasts gathered to pay tribute to the Russian icon with a spectacular mix of big screen documentary footage, strident music and testimony from those who followed in the tracks of his space boots. People flew from around the globe to bathe in this gathering, David Malin a leading astrophotographer was at the festival to judge a special photo competition and was buzzing with excitement. This is a unique event, lots of different aspects have come together such as art and philosophy, I had the pleasure of organising the late night star party at Mount Teide, a fitting setting for our guests here.
Plugged in to my translator I was ready to listen to a who’s who of space exploration, Neil Armstrong who carved his own piece of history as the first man on the moon, spoke glowingly about the Russian Sputnik programme generally and the man himself personally. That first trip into space was a massive breakthrough that gave us all a dream to chase, I don’t think Russia or Yuri ever quite got the credit their space programme deserved.
Alexei Leonov who made the first space walk back in 1965 cut an imposing and impressive figure in his white suit and talked of the development of the Russian space programme. After Yuri we worked more on robotic probes for the moon, maybe that was a mistake on our part, the Americans made good progress with manned flights and beat us to the first landing.
Victor Gorbatko touched on his experience on the Soyuz missions and Yuri Baturin took the story on to his time aboard the Mir space station. Both were proud and aware of the debt they owed to Gagarin. For America, Jim Lovell reflected on his time aboard Apollo 8 and 13 and lamented the lack of a strong programme to replace the space shuttle. It was quite a daunting sight to see so many space miles represented on stage, each with their special contribution to man’s advancement.
I caught up with a couple of American enthusiasts from Montana, clearly in awe of the assembled crew. Gordon Dewey an avionics expert and Larry Beede a Fed Ex pilot, had been drawn half way around the world purely to see so many astronauts. It’s been an honour for us said Gordon this may never happen again given their ages and the pull of the Gagarin anniversary. We were hoping to see the entire Apollo 8 crew but Frank Borman couldn’t make it due to his wife’s health problems. It’s a shame many people were put off by the cost, we paid 1,000 dollars just to register and get all the passes to the events and the organised trips during the week. Luckily we stayed with a friend at his villa in Puerto de la Cruz (with 6 nights in a 5 star hotel Starmus packages went as high as 4,300 euros a person) but that still left flights via Madrid.
The memories, friendships and contacts will live on long after the festival and there’s talk of repeating it on at least a semi regular basis. The presentation of the talks was top class and all the delegates spoke glowingly about the hospitality they received. Tenerife hopes to see them all again on the next orbit.