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Yuri Gagarin's image can be found all over Star City, even in the foyer of the town's planetarium, and he remains the iconic cosmonaut. (Esther Dyson)

Star City at 50

Change comes to the place where spaceflight was born.

The openness to new ideas is typical of the cosmonauts now flying missions to the space station. “The earlier guys were a bit reserved or uncomfortable with us,” NASA’s Lopez-Alegria says. “We had been their cold war enemies.” Today’s cosmonauts are not only completely at home with international crewmates, they are also, thanks to Facebook and other social media, far more connected with the outside world. GCTC cosmonaut Max Suraev blogged his Expedition 21 stay on the station in 2009 and 2010, posing for pictures with a “ray gun” and joking about subjects from space food to his inability to choose clothing. In many of his posts, he was more candid than the typical NASA astronaut.

One of the middle-generation cosmonauts, Yuri Malenchenko, arrived in Star City in the late 1980s as a 26-year-old fighter pilot. He went on to serve a four-month tour on Mir in 1994, flew a short shuttle mission to the International Space Station in 2000, then participated in two long-duration missions in 2003 and 2007. Now 49 and training for a third ISS stay, he is philosophical about the ways the life of a Russian cosmonaut has changed over the course of his career: “Twenty-two years ago the country was different. Since then there have been many events that happened in politics and the economy. So now Star City is different, and we are different.”

Michael Cassutt is a novelist and television writer in Studio City, California.

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