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Yuri Gagarin From the Earth to Mars Tribute

The legacy of Yuri Gagarin and Vostok1 honored by Opportunity Mars Rover at Vostok Crater (bottom) and Gagarin Rock (center). Photos: Roscosmos/NASA/JPL Poster: Ken Kremer

50 Years ago, the dream of human spaceflight opened with the courageous blastoff of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin inside the Vostok 1 spacecraft on April 12, 1961. Gagarin was the first person to orbit the Earth. Less than a month later on May 5. 1961, Astronaut Alan Shepard bravely set forth on America’s first human spaceflight – Freedom 7.

Barely three weeks afterward on May 25, 1961, these momentous events of the early Space Age led directly to Project Apollo and the historic announcement by President Kennedy that the United States “would land a man on the moon” by the end of the 1960’s.

In honor of Yuri Gagarin, NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover explored a small and highly eroded crater dubbed “Vostok Crater” in 2005 during its journey in the Meridian Planum region on the Martian surface. Along the edge of the crater, researchers commanded Opportunity to use the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT), to drill into a rock dubbed “Gagarin” on Sols 401 and 402 in March 2005.

Yuri Gagarin - first human in space. Credit: Russian Archives


I created the poster collage above as a tribute to the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin and his legacy which eventually led to the exploration of Mars by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers

Opportunity landed on Mars on Jan. 24, 2004 for a planned 90 sol mission. By the time that Opportunity arrived at Vostok Crater, she had already lasted more than 4 times longer than expected and found that water existed on ancient Mars.

Opportunity is still alive today on Sol 2571, more than 28 times beyond its design lifetime !

Opportunity used its rock abrasion tool (RAT) on a rock named "Gagarin" during Sols 401 and 402 on Mars (March 10 and 11, 2005). This false-color image shows the circular mark created where the tool exposed the interior of the rock Gagarin at a target called "Yuri." The circle is about 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) in diameter. Gagarin is at the edge of a highly eroded, small crater that was named "Vostok" for the spacecraft that carried Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in the first human spaceflight, on April 12, 1961. This image combines exposures taken through three different filters by Opportunity's panoramic camera on Sol 405 (March 14, 2005). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./ASU

Scientists are using the data gathered from “Gagarin Rock” and other locations explored by Opportunity to help elucidate the history of the past flow of liquid water on the red planet and determine whether the wet environmental conditions could ever have supported martian microbial life – past or present.

“The 50th anniversary of mankind’s first fledgling foray into the cosmos should serve as an important reminder of the spirit of adventure and exploration that has propelled mankind throughout history,” said Mars rover science team member James Rice of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md, in a statement. “We are a species of explorers; it is encoded into our very DNA.”

“Half a century ago Yuri Gagarin was lofted into a totally unknown, remote and hostile environment and in doing so opened up a new limitless frontier of possibilities for mankind,” Rice added. “A mere 23 days later another brave human, Alan Shepard, climbed aboard a rocket and ventured into the starry abyss. Their courage and vision continue to inspire and lead us into the unknown. Hopefully, one day in the not too distant future it will lead humanity on a voyage to Mars.”

Many people, including myself, were inspired by the Space Race to become scientists and engineers and hope that continues for the next generation of students today.

Read more about Yuri Gagarin and Opportunity in my related stories:

Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Photo Album – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
Countdown to Yuri’s Night and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight !
Stirring Video Tributes to Yuri Gagarin
Opportunity Rover Completes Exploration of fascinating Santa Maria Crater

Opportunity used its rock abrasion tool on a rock named "Gagarin" during the 401st and 402nd Martian days, or sols, of the rover's work on Mars (March 10 and 11, 2005). This image, taken by Opportunity's navigation camera on Sol 405 (March 14, 2005), shows the circular mark left on the rock. The circle is about 4.5 centimeters (1.8 inches) in diameter. At the end of the rover's arm, the tool turret is positioned with the rock abrasion tool pointing upward in this image. The abrasion target on the rock Gagarin was informally named "Yuri." Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Opportunity Traverse Map during 7 year long journey across Mars.
Map shows the long journey of Opportunity spanning the Meridiani Planum region from landing in Jan 2004 to recent stop at Santa Maria crater. Opportunity explored Vostok Crater in March 2005, about 1 year after landing as indicted by marker in yellow. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell Marco Di Lorenzo, Kenneth Kremer

About 

Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, scientist, freelance science journalist (Princeton, NJ) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calanders including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral and NASA Wallops on over 40 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight - www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter

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