The works -- which you can see here -- are a gift to the city of Houston from the Dialogue of Cultures-United World fund and by the Russkiy Mir Foundation, both of them Russian groups, say local officials.
They were donated in order to stand outside the building that used to house U.S. space agency NASA's first headquarters.
The city of Houston calls the project "symbolic of Russia's and the United States' continuing collaboration in space exploration, particularly on the International Space Station."
Gagarin presumably gets to stand about 30 centimeters higher than Glenn because he was first into orbit, not because the Russians are picking up the tab.
And in fact, a "Houston Chronicle" blog that quotes Houston Mayor Annise Parker says:
Russian donors had at first offered just the Gagarin sculpture. Parker said she asked the Russians to also donate the Glenn monument to signify the current spirit of cooperation between the countries. The $87,000 cost of the works and their installation comes at no cost to taxpayers.
It's tempting to regard the installation as a metaphor for the current state of space exploration, what with the United States shutting down its Space Shuttle program (in order to produce sublime street art in Los Angeles, it seems) and farming out manned space travel to Russia. That's an oversimplification, of course, and Russia's space program faces challenges of its own.
But Mayor Parker might be forgiven for trying to rewrite history just a bit, even with Gagarin's daughter and grandson in attendance. The "Chronicle" blog has added a parenthetical qualifier to an excerpt of Parker's speech that lots of "real historians" in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere might challenge:
Russia's English-language international broadcaster The Voice of Russia says there are plans for more cooperation between the respective birthplaces of U.S. and Soviet space travel. It quotes Dialogue of Cultures foundation head Ruslan Bairamov as saying "a project known as Ethnomir near Borovsk in [Russia's] Kaluga region," home of the late rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, "aims to throw a bridge between Houston and Kaluga in terms of space exploration."
Another statue abroad of Gagarin stands just off The Mall in London, reportedly at a spot "passed" by the Soviet cosmonaut when he came for an audience with Queen Elizabeth II.