HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Standing watch along Wayside, arms outstretched as if to hug the world, is a smiling statue of a man whose name is synonymous with space exploration.
But this tribute on City of Houston property and outside the original offices for NASA astronauts isn't of an astronaut. It's of a cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin, a Russian who, in 1961, became the first human in space.
The statue was a gift from a Russian charitable organization as a symbol of our two countries' ongoing teamwork. The Russians now launch our explorers to the ISS, the ultimate extraterrestrial collaboration.
The woman who was instrumental in getting this statue here, Sophya Tabarosky, didn't want the spirit of cooperation or unity between the two countries to end. So she launched a new project, figuring that if we would put a Russian statue here, the Russians would put an American statue there, especially if it was Neil Armstrong.
"It's just the world is small," Tabarosky said. "You have to be together. Regardless of politicians."
Tabarosky is a transplanted Houstonian who is now leading the effort to fund the statue of Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon-July 20, 1969.
They've already broken ground on the spot the statue will occupy in Ethnomir, Russia.
"When we ask kids about astronauts, cosmonauts, who is first, some of them or many of them, they do not know," she said, "But they should know this history of the country. This is history of the whole world."
Bridgitte Mongeon is the sculptor. Her design hopes to include a digital rendering of the actual suit Armstrong wore when he walked on the moon. It will take 9-12 months to sculpt the 6-foot statue.
"There's no political climate when you're talking about space," said Mongeon, a sculptor who uses more than clay or bronze.
"I work with both traditional and digital," she explained. "I'm a sculptor that works both analogue and in the computer."
And there won't be just one of them. In addition to putting one in Russia, Space Center Houston is working with the effort and confirms it will become home to a second identical statue which will greet visitors as they arrive.
All it will take now is raising the money. For both statues, the United In Space project needs $200,000. They have yet to really lift off, but they know they'll ultimately get the boost they need.
"So we need to recognize that it began somewhere," Mongeon said. "And this is a really important element, you know, one small step for man."
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