Heroes with feet of clay was the topic the writing group chose back in September last year. I wrote this:
Hero of the Soviet Union
April 12 1961 (and later)
George was fascinated by the news that a man had flown in space and then returned. Everyone else seemed worried. The Russians had won the space race and now everything outside the Earth would be communist. To George, avid reader of The Eagle and Dan Dare fan, it was like the real world had caught up with his imagination.
As the days passed he clipped blurry photos of Yuri Gagarin from the paper and added them to the posters of Dan and Dig and Professor Peabody on his wall. When better pictures appeared in the magazines he moved the poster of his beloved Spurs (destined to come third in the league that year) up to the ceiling to make room. He considered scribbling out Khrushchev holding up the hand of the cosmonaut. He left him in, but it made him uneasy.
March 28 1968
Exactly how close the Vostok 1 mission came to failure was not revealed until later. The capsule was so weight restricted they couldn’t fit in a parachute that would allow it to land safely; it would crash into the ground too fast for the cosmonaut to survive. Gagarin had to eject from the craft at 7 km (22,000 feet) altitude. George found it difficult to imagine; flying into space for 90 minutes, then having to leave the spaceship and drift on a parachute for another 10 minutes.
Gagarin had been made a Hero of the Soviet Union for his only spaceflight. That had been followed by an endless round of publicity tours. He had taken too much advantage of the Russian habit of every social occasion involving large amounts of alcohol. There was also the rumour that his wife had caught him with another woman. During the incident he had escaped off a second floor balcony, falling and injuring his forehead so hard it left a scar.
His later career sometimes seemed more farce than tragedy. That had changed yesterday when the Soviet authorities’ efforts to protect their hero had come to an end. Gagarin had crashed his MiG-15 while on a training flight.
None of that mattered today as he walked into the white room to be greeted by the nurse.
“Congratulations Mr Mackenzie. You’re the father of a beautiful little girl!”
He was stopped in his tracks. “A little girl?”
“Over here.” In his wife’s voice he could hear the you idiot she didn’t say. She was holding a bundle of cloth with a tiny pink face at the top.
Sometime later they were interrupted by the nurse again. “Would you like a cup of tea?” After they agreed they did, she went on “Have you thought what you’re going to name her? The registrar will be coming round later.”
“I... hadn’t thought about it. Ellen, what do you think?”
“I’m too tired. But, you’re not going to name her after that terrible Russian astronaut.” He agreed. It was too morbid, too soon. This was a new person, who should have a new name.
Ellen had other concerns. “His name sounds too much like wee.”
“I hadn’t thought about it. Maybe Joceyln?”
She shook her head. “Too old fashioned. It’s 1968! We should be broadening our minds.”
“How about Laika?”
“That’s the name of a dog. A Russian dog.”
He frowned. “Perhaps... Comet?”
“That’s Supergirl’s horse.”
He looked up. “What?”
“I said, it sounds like something from a comic. Look I don’t see why this is so hard. All we need is something modern, distinctive and not too silly sounding.”
He paused, concentrating for a while. “Then how do you feel about Andromeda?”
19 February 1989
George answers the phone “Hello?”
“Hi Dad, it’s Andi.”
“Hello sweetheart. Shall I get your Mum?”
She sighs at this 117th repeat of his joke greeting. “No, I’m actually calling for you today.”
“Oh? Are you short of money?”
“No. Well not really. I’m actually calling because we’re getting a guest speaker for SpaceSoc. I thought you might be interested. It’s Valentina Tereshkova.”
“Daaaaad. You know perfectly well who. Stop messing about. Do you want to come and meet her?”
He nods, then realises she can’t see him. “Yes. Yes I would. Thank you darling.”
Valentina Tereshkova, first woman in space, carried a flag at the winter Olympics in Sochi; last year at the age of 76 she expressed interest in joining a proposed one way trip to Mars.
It's worth noting that I was NOT named after Neil Armstrong, but I am aware of other Neils who were named after him.
EDIT: It's also worth noting that for wordcount and topic reasons I
am cruelly unfair to Gagarin's later career, in which he was in charge
of cosmonaut training and spaceflight safety at various times, making important
contributions to both.