Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin -- a 28-year veteran of the Soviet and Russian space programs -- gazed proudly at the sculpture next to him. The bronze bust was more than just a likeness of the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, Tyurin said. It was a symbol.
"All of us can recall the time when we had to stay separate from our colleagues [in the United States]," he said. "We had to hide our secrets and technology from each other."
The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City on Saturday unveiled the bust of Gagarin -- the latest addition to an exhibit focusing on Soviet space exploration.
Collaborating with the Glen Head-based Sunflower Education Center, Russian businessman Ruslan Bayramov donated the bust. He said through an interpreter that the sculpture commemorates cooperation between the American and Russian space programs in the post-Cold War era.
Andrey Yushmanov, Russia's consul general in New York, said honoring Gagarin in the United States is tantamount to rewriting the "pages of our common history."
"The significance of this event goes beyond all national boundaries," he said.
The Gagarin bust will be displayed beneath a model of Sputnik-1, the satellite that ignited the space race in 1957, according to museum officials.
Tyurin, 52, said the sculpture is a bookend to an era of mistrust and competition in space exploration. The cosmonaut -- a veteran of two missions to the International Space Station -- trains with NASA in Houston.
"Now, we're working together," he said.