On May 5, 1962, Soviet cosmonaut Gherman Titov (b. 1935) and his wife Tamara (b. 1938) visit the Seattle World's Fair with their interpreter and other escorts. Huge crowds turn out to see the space traveler, and many find him to be friendly and charming. On the second day of his visit, Titov casually mentions that he saw no god while in outer space, and his professed atheism causes controversy.
Touring the Grounds
May 5 was incredibly hectic at the Century 21 Exposition, thanks to a visit from Russian cosmonaut Major Gherman Titov, who attracted some of the largest crowds the fair had seen since its opening on April 21. At times, the diminutive 5-foot 4-inch Titov found it hard to see anything other than the Space Needle, as taller spectators gathered around him, hoping to glimpse or photograph one of the few men that had been in outer space. Scores of news reporters compounded the crush.
The Russian cosmonaut wasn’t the only one to gather crowds. More than 10,000 Camp Fire Girls were on hand to dedicate the World’s Fair flagpoles, funded by candy mint sales. An estimated 20,000 people -- more than a quarter of the day’s total attendance of 75,758 -- were there to take part in Camp Fire Girl celebrations. Because of the large crowds, Century 21 Exposition manager Ewen Dingwall (1913-1996) announced that starting May 12, the fair would open an hour earlier each day, at 9:00.
Throughout the day Titov signed autograph books and handed out color photos of himself, especially to children. At one point he handed his photo to a baby in a stroller. His first stop after walking around the fairgrounds with Dingwall and Century 21 President Joe Gandy (1904-1971) was at the "World of Tomorrow" exhibit in the Washington State Coliseum. Someone in the crowd joked that Titov had already been there.
At the NASA Pavilion
Next up was a visit to the NASA Pavilion, where Titov asked many questions through his interpreter, while keeping the conversation light and personable. Stopping at the replica of Friendship 7, the space capsule that carried American astronaut John Glenn (1921-2016) into orbit, Titov remarked on how tiny and cramped it was compared to his own. "In our case, the cabin is fairly spacious" ("Russ Cosmonaut Titov Visits C-21, Says he Abhors War").
After touring the exhibit, Titov gave a short press conference in the NASA pavilion. After answering a few queries about space travel, the topic turned to war. Titov outlined his own experiences with war, and how much he hated it. He described his childhood as joyous and happy, before Hitler's army invaded Russia in 1941. At that time he was 6 years old, and the days of his youth quickly turned into "darkness and clouds," an experience he would not wish upon children growing up today ("Russ Cosmonaut Titov Visits C-21, Says he Abhors War").
Titov hoped that world forces could join peacefully so that "our earth will not know war and the sound of guns." He also hoped to see the day when the United States and Russia could explore the moon together.
A Busy Schedule
After answering a few more questions, Titov excused himself, and noted that he was meeting his wife, Tamara, at the Opera House for a performance of “The Littlest Circus,” a stage show created primarily for children. He walked briskly with his escorts past the Coliseum, hopped on board an electric tram, and was whisked away to the Opera House.
Upon his arrival, Mrs. Titov was not there. The cosmonaut became visibly upset as he waited patiently for her arrival from a downtown Seattle beauty salon, where she was getting her hair styled. It wasn't until she showed up that he realized that she was on time, and that he was early, having shaved 10 minutes from his press conference.
After the performance, the Titovs made a brief stop at Club 21, the private club for top Fair brass, businessmen and their wives, and high-ranking visitors and exhibitors. They next went to the Canlis Charcoal Broiler for dinner, and ended their day with a trip to the Space Needle observation deck, before riding the monorail downtown, where they stayed at the Camlin Hotel.
"I Saw Neither Angels Nor God"
The next morning, the Titovs enjoyed lunch at Trader Vic's, before heading back to the fairgrounds to tour the Science Pavilion. The cosmonaut and his wife enjoyed taking part in some of the hands-on science experiments, but during a coffee break with reporters, Titov made some comments that sent temperatures plunging to subzero. When asked how his space flight affected his philosophy of life, Titov replied through his interpreter, "Sometimes people are saying that God is out there. I was looking around attentively all day but I didn’t find anybody there. I saw neither angels nor God" ("Space Man Expounds His Atheism").
More than a few jaws dropped at Titov’s frankness. "Up until the orbital flight of Major Gagarin," he continued, "No god was helping make the rocket. The rocket was made certainly by our people and the flight was carried out by man. So I don’t believe in God. I believe in man -- in his strengths, his possibilities, and his reason" ("Space Man Expounds His Atheism").
Reporters seized on these statements, and completely changed the narrative of their press coverage. Over the next week, newspapers across America, which had previously described Titov as affable and polite, now portrayed him as a godless communist. Editorials spilled barrels of ink about Soviet “anti-religious propaganda.”
A Very Good Fair
But at the fair, Titov was friendly to folks who wanted his autograph or to take his picture. One 12-year-old girl told him the she wanted to be an astronaut, to which he replied, "If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll be. You have everything ahead of you" ("Space Man Expounds His Atheism").
The Titovs spent a few more hours touring the foreign exhibits, and the cosmonaut seemed to especially enjoy those that displayed mechanical devices. He delighted some foreign representatives by telling them that he had seen their countries from the window of his space ship. Before leaving the fairgrounds, Titov commented that it was “a very good fair” ("Space Man Expounds His Atheism").