Celebratory fireworks in Moscow
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Pillinger: 'It was a race' to get the first man in space

12 April 2011 Last updated at 21:17 BST

Russia has marked the 50th anniversary of the first human space flight by cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

President Dmitry Medvedev told the nation, "We were first into space, we have a huge number of achievements, we don't want to lose our advantage".

The event was marked by ceremonies and a 50-gun salute in Moscow.

Professor Colin Pillinger, who was part of NASA's Apollo space programme, explains why Gagarin's flight was such a momentous occasion.