Gagarin’s undelivered death note published

A letter written by Yury Gagarin to his wife and daughters, penned two days before his potentially fatal journey into space, has been published.

The death note, which Valentina Gagarina read seven years later, after Yury died in an air crash, is part of a book by space history researcher Anton Pervushin, which will be released for the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight.

Pervushin gathered a collection of documents and witness accounts of the historic event, which had been declassified over the years. Gagarin’s story comes as a mixture of cosmonaut folklore, very personal memories and sometimes bizarre Soviet officialdom.

A translation of the letter into English follows. Gagarin uses informal, tender versions of names for his wife Valentina and daughters Elena and Galina.

“Hello, my sweet and much loved Valechka, Lenochka and Galochka

Here I’ve decided to write you a few lines to share the joy and happiness I felt today. Today a governmental commission decided to send me first to space. You know, dear Valyusha, I’m so happy; I want you to be happy with me. A simple man has been trusted such a big national task – to blaze the trail into space! Is there anything bigger to wish for? This is history, a new age!

The day after tomorrow is the launch. You’ll be doing you regular things then. It’s a very big task lying on my shoulders. I wish I had a chance to be with you for a little while before it, to talk to you. Alas, you are far away. But nevertheless I always feel you by my side.

I trust the hardware completely. It will not fail. But it happens that a man falls right on a level ground and breaks his neck. Some accident may happen here too. I personally don’t believe it would happen. But if it does, I ask you all and you, Valyusha, in the first place not to waste yourself with grief. Life is life, and nobody is safe from being run over by a car.

Take care of our girls; love them like I do. Please, raise them not as some lazy mommy’s girls, but real persons who can handle anything life throws at them. Make them worthy of the new society – communism. The state will help you do it.

As for your personal life, settle it the way your heart tells you, the way you feel right. I hold no obligation from you and I don’t think I have a right for it.

This letter seems too gloomy. I don’t feel like it. I hope you’ll never see this letter, and I’ll never have to be ashamed for this moment of weakness of mine. But if something goes wrong, you have to know it all. So far I lived an honest, rightful life; I served the people, even though this service was a little one.

I my childhood I read Valery Chkalov’s [legendary test pilot] words: ‘If being, then be first’. Well, I’m trying to be one and I will be to the end. I want, Valechka, to dedicate my flight to the people of the new society, communism, which we are about to become part of, to our great motherland, to our science.

I hope in a few days we will be together again and will be happy. Valechka, please, don’t forget my parents, and if you have an opportunity give them a helping hand. Send them my biggest greetings and ask their forgiveness for my keeping them unaware; they are not supposed to know anything.

This seems to be all. Goodbye, my dears. I embrace you all tight and kiss you. Your dad and Yura. 10 April, 1961.


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