Gagarin’s Thing in Russia


In 1999 I was invited to the USA for an artist’s residency in San Francisco of several months. Following one of the presentation lectures I was introduced to John Cole. He was interested in my work relating to the concept of social design and my cooperation with institutions and big manufacturing companies. He offered me an opportunity to take part in a project at NASA. He gave me a few days to think it over and proposed a meeting, where I would receive more information on the project in question if I was interested. I was very surprised by this offer and at the same time I was so taken by its unusual nature and fascinated that I agreed to the meeting.

After a few days I received a folder with the inscription “Gagarin’s Thing” and an offer to collaborate on the restoration and subsequent artistic reconstruction of the object. The origin of Gagarin’s Thing was explained to me, as was the reason for its present lamentable state. John explained to me what had occurred in Prague in 1968 and therefore why I might be enthusiastic about the entire issue.

In the following years I had an opportunity to participate in the restoration of the destroyed object in the developmental laboratories of NASA and the Getty Institute, although my participation in this respect was more of a consultancy nature. Even though I was not allowed to work physically with the original object, I had a chance to see it many times in very close proximity. The work itself was fascinating, especially the part relating to material expertise and the subsequent application of fixation materials (details are given in the restoration report).

My main task, however, consisted in conducting a reconstruction of Gagarin’s Thing. I was to create a special, life-size model, which, and this was especially fascinating, was to reflect the appearance of Gagarin’s Thing in 1962. The reconstruction was to imitate Gagarin’s Thing in the condition in which it had been before it first arrived at the White House, i.e. before its definitive destruction.


An official photograph of Gagarin from 1961 (complete and uncut). One of the two accessible photographs in which Y.A. Gagarin can be seen with “Gagarin´s Thing”.



Memorial of the GT

This unique photograph captures one of the two “memorials of the GT”, which used to stand in Baikonur. This particular one was erected in front of a service hall in the spaceport area by laboratory workers to celebrate Khrushchev’s unseating in 1964. Barely six months later, though, government orders had it adapted into a “memorial of space conquerors”. After 2000, it was made into a monument of Russian-Kazakh friendship.


The photograph presents a bathing ritual conducted by an Orthodox monk. As prayers were said and lithurgical songs were sung, the GT was sprinkled with holy water.



A photograph of the original esoteric drawings of Nikolay Suchoruchenko. They portray an attempt to understand the existence of the GT in the context of Christian-Orthodox cosmology and spiritualism. Especially notable is the tendency to associate these transcendental phenomenons with the technological terminology of cosmic machines.


1) A rare photograph of Natasha Stepanovichova, a member of the Kremlin technical personnel in the Office of N. Khrushchev. In the background – „The Gagarin Thing“. The Archives of UV KSSS



This winter coat button was also found amongst the possessions of N. Khrushchev. It appears that the First Secretary enjoyed being surrounded by various simple curiosities, which his friends happily provided for him. This particular specimen is, however, so worn that it is impossible to see the scene on the miniature, or who it portrays. According to the gesture of greeting, it could perhaps be the presentation of GT by a member of the working class (simple clothing).




This box, adorned with the GT motif, was part of N. Khrushchev’s heritage. What was contained within is sadly not known.



Cigarette Case

A cigarette case which is said to have been ordered for N. Khrushchev’s sixty-eighth birthday by Sergei Korolev himself.



Lacquered Box

This beautiful lacquered box of papier maché, produced by the Fedoskino native craft workshop, was ordered for N. Khrushchev by Y. A. Gagarin himself. The small-scale painting presents a picture of himself and the GT, portrayed as the victor in the conquest of space.



Poster design by Dmitri  Stakhilevich Orlov under direct order from Nikita Khrushchev.



The archives of the KGB, which are gradually made available, allow researchers with a special authorization to look for information about the GT. Several of these newly found documents are rather surprising and cast new light on events that had happened in the history of the iron curtain and which are little known or purposely obstructed. The publishing of this information influences the interest of the more thoughtful part of the public – about Gagarin himself, but also about the “Gagarin Thing”. Such interest is also notable about the Russian new youth, a social group supported by the government seeking lost patriotism. The interpretation of these young people creates a specific type of myth, exclusivity and fashion, which, however, has little in common with actual historical reality. The photograph shows the Russian new youth partying in one of Moscow’s clubs.