Challenger and Columbia Crews Memorialized in Emotional New “Forever Remembered” Exhibit at Kennedy Space Center

An iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag (left) and the flight deck windows recovered from space shuttle Columbia (right) are part of a new, permanent memorial, “Forever Remembered,” that opened on June 27, 2015 in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida – featuring shuttle hardware and personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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NASA’s two lost Shuttle crews from the searing Challenger and Columbia accidents are now memorialized in the newly opened, permanent and highly emotional “Forever Remembered” tribute display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

The “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute was officially opened by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, both veteran shuttle astronauts, at a very special and moving small private NASA ceremony attended by families of the 14 fallen crew members and invited members of the media including Universe Today on June 27, 2015.

“I believe that it’s important to share this story with everyone, and not just push it aside, or try to hide it,” Cabana said at the ceremony, as tears welled up in everyone present.

The shuttle tribute is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and features shuttle orbiter hardware recovered from both the Challenger STS-51L and Columbia STS-107 accidents, as well as personal crew items from all 14 courageous astronauts who lost their lives – items never before on display for viewing by the public.

The 2000 square foot exhibit features an iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger emblazoned with the American flag and the flight deck windows recovered from space shuttle Columbia, that are part of the permanent “Forever Remembered” memorial that opened on June 27, 2015 – see photo above.

It also holds the largest collection of personal items of both flight crews in individual displays about the 14 crew members in a hallway that leads to a plaque with a quote from U.S. President Ronald Reagan.

“The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave,” said President Ronald Reagan in remarks to the nation in mourning shortly after the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger on Jan. 28, 1986.

Astronaut walkway exhibit in the permanent new “Forever Remembered” memorial  to the 14 fallen crew members of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, featuring personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Astronaut walkway exhibit in the permanent new “Forever Remembered” memorial to the 14 fallen crew members of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, featuring personal crew items never before on display for viewing by the public. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The “Forever Remembered” display was conceived in private by a very small circle spearheaded by Cabana and unknown by outsiders until the day it was formally opened. It completes the display inside the Atlantis pavilion, which commemorates NASA’s three decade long Space Shuttle Program that flew 135 missions from 1981 to 2011 with the reusable delta-winged vehicles that “captivated a generation.”

It is intended to be an emotional experience and “designed to honor the crews, pay tribute to the spacecraft and emphasize the importance of learning from the past” and the tragic consequences. This will enable safer flights in the future and fortify the spirit of never giving up on the exploration of space.

“The tragedies galvanized the agency to learn from these painful events, not only to safely return the shuttle fleet to flight, but to help assure the safety of future explorers,” NASA said in a statement.

Several dozen family members attended the tearful, heartfelt opening ceremony of “Forever Remembered” with very emotional remarks from Cabana and Bolden.

“These crews and these vehicles are part of who we are as an agency, and a nation. They tell the story of our never ending quest to explore, and our undying spirit to never give up,” Cabana stated at the ceremony.

Columbia and Challenger were the nation’s first two orbiters to be built. Columbia launched on the maiden space shuttle flight on April 12, 1981 on what is revered by many as the “boldest test flight in history” with NASA astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen.

“When I look into those windows, I see John Young and Bob Crippen preparing to launch on the boldest test flight in history, the first flight of America’s space shuttle, Columbia,” Cabana added.

“I see a much younger Bob Cabana launching to space on his first command, and I see Rick and Willie and the rest of the 107 crew smiling and experiencing the wonders of space on the final flight of Columbia.”

The idea to create a permanent memorial originated with a team led by Bob Cabana, and approved by Charlie Bolden only after every one of the astronauts families were in complete and unqualified agreement that this tribute display was the right thing to do in memory of their loved ones, tragically lost during the in flight accidents in 1986 and 2003.

“The crews of Challenger and Columbia are forever a part of a story that is ongoing,” Bolden said at the ceremony.

“It is the story of humankind’s evolving journey into space, the unknown, and the outer-reaches of knowledge, discovery and possibility. It is a story of hope.”

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on Junwe 27, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The wives of the two shuttle commanders, shared their thoughts on the new exhibit:

“It’s a beautiful remembrance of all the shuttles, with the marvelous display of Atlantis. Nothing compares to it in the world,” said June Scobee Rodgers, whose husband, Dick Scobee, commanded Challenger on STS-51L, in a statement.

“But Challenger and Columbia are not forgotten, and they’re well represented.”

“I knew it would be very emotional to see, but honestly, I didn’t expect to be so impacted by it. I just can’t stop thinking about it. As you walk in, you know you’re in a special place,” Evelyn Husband Thompson said of the memorial. Her husband, Rick, commanded Columbia on STS-107.

Up close view of the iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag now on permanent display in the newly opened “Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Up close view of the iconic section of the fuselage recovered from space shuttle Challenger with the American flag now on permanent display in the newly opened “Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute located in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Here is a NASA description of both the Columbia and Challenger accidents and crews:

“Temperatures at Kennedy Space Center were just a few degrees above freezing on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, as Challenger lifted off on its 10th mission, STS-51L. One minute and 13 seconds into the flight, a booster failure caused an explosion that destroyed the vehicle, resulting in the loss of the crew of seven astronauts: Commander Francis Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ronald McNair, and Payload Specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire schoolteacher.”

“Seventeen years later, on Jan. 16, 2003, NASA’s flagship orbiter Columbia thundered into orbit on STS-107, a 16-day science mission. On board were Commander Rick Husband, Pilot Willie McCool, Payload Commander Michael Anderson, Mission Specialists Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut. On Feb. 1, 2003, the orbiter broke apart in the skies above east Texas as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on the way to a planned landing at Kennedy. Seven more lives were lost.”

“Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visible just below the shuttle wing in this photo.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
“Forever Remembered” public memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters is located on the ground floor of the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visible just below the shuttle wing in this photo. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Today the fallen astronauts legacy of human spaceflight lives on at NASA with the International Space Station, the development of Commercial Crew manned capsules for low Earth orbit, and the development of the Orion deep space crew exploration vehicle and SLS rocket for NASA’s ambitious plans to send ‘Human to Mars’ in the 2030s.

Read more about both fallen shuttle crews and the Apollo 1 crew who perished in a launch pad accident in January 1967 in my tribute story posted here during NASA’s solemn week of remembrance in January.

The explosion of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket some two minutes after launch on June 28, 2015 is a reminder that space flight is never easy or routine. Starting sometime in 2017, astronauts will launch to the ISS in a crew Dragon atop the Falcon 9. It will be equipped with a launch abort system that the shuttles never had, in case of a launch emergency.

I urge everyone to visit this hallowed “Forever Remembered” memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice to benefit all of us in the quest for new knowledge of the boundless expanse of space leading to new discoveries we cannot fathom today.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana officially opens the “Forever Remembered” memorial tribute to the fallen crews of the Columbia and Challenger Space Shuttle orbiters in the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on June 27, 2015. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
The new Space Shuttle Atlantis pavilion at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Space Shuttle Enterprise Unveiled 35 Years Ago to Star Trek Fanfare

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‘Enterprise’, the first of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters to be assembled, was unveiled 35 Years ago on Sept. 17, 1976 to the soaring theme song and fanfare of the immortal science fiction television series – ‘Star Trek’. Members of the original cast (photo above) were on hand for the celebratory rollout at the Rockwell International manufacturing plant in Palmdale, California.

Today, the Enterprise is housed as the centerpiece at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum (NASM) Udvar-Hazy Annex in Chantilly, Virginia.

Check out these webcams for live views of shuttle Enterprise at NASM from the front and aft.

Space Shuttle Enterprise on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Annex in Chantilly, Virginia

NASA originally selected ‘Constitution’ as the orbiter’s name – in honor of the U.S. Constitution’s Bicentennial . That was until avid fans of ‘Star Trek’ mounted a successful letter writing campaign urging the White House to select the name ‘Enterprise’ – in honor of the popular TV shows starship of exploration. The rest is history.

Many scientists and space enthusiasts found inspiration from Star Trek and were motivated to become professional researchers by the groundbreaking science fiction show.

Space Shuttle Enterprise on display as the centerpiece at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Annex in Chantilly, Virginia. Credit: NASA

Enterprise was a prototype orbiter, designated as OV-101, and not built for spaceflight because it lacked the three space shuttle main engines necessary for launch and the thermal protection systems required for reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Enterprise did however play a very key role in preparing NASA’s other shuttles for eventual spaceflight. The orbiter was tested in free flight when it was released from a Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for a series of five critical approach and landing tests in 1977.I was fortunate to see Enterprise back in 1977 on top of a 747 during a cross country stop near the Johnson Space Center.

Enterprise in free flight during approach and landing test in 1977

In 1979 Enterprise was mated to an External Tank and a pair of Solid Rocket Boosters for several weeks of fit checks and procedural test practice in launch configuration at Launch Complex 39 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

These efforts helped pave the way for the first ever flight of a space shuttle by her sister orbiter ‘Columbia’ on the STS-1 mission by John Young and Bob Crippen. Columbia blasted off on April 12, 1981 on a gutsy 54 hour test flight.

Enterprise in free flight during approach and landing test in 1977

In 1984, the Enterprise was ferried to Vandenberg Air Force Base for similar pad configuration checks at Space Launch Complex- 6 (SLC-6) for what was then planned to be the shuttle’s west coast launch site. All California launches were cancelled following the destruction of Space Shuttle Challanger in Jan 1986.

After three decades of flight, the Space Shuttle Era came to a historic end with the majestic predawn touchdown of Space Shuttle Atlantis on Jul 21, 2011. The STS-135 mission was the Grand Finale of NASA’s three decade long Shuttle program.

Following the retirement of all three remaining shuttle orbiters, Enterprise will soon be moved to her new permanent home at the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum in New York City to make way for NASA’s new gift of Space Shuttle Discovery.

First Appearance of Enterprise
Space shuttle Enterprise made its first appearance mated to supportive propellant containers/boosters cluster, as it was rolled from the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center en route to the launch pad, some 3.5 miles away, on May 1, 1979. Enterprise underwent several weeks of fit and function checks on the pad in preparation for STS-1, on which its sister craft Columbia took astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen into space for a 54-hour test mission. Credit: NASA
First Appearance of Enterprise
Space Shuttle Enterprise at Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6 ) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, on February 1, 1985. Credit: Tech. Sgt. Bill Thompson/USAF

Read Ken’s continuing features here about Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis
Send Ken your pictures of Enterprise to publish at Universe Today.

An Image it Took 30 Years to Complete: Father and Son at First and Last Shuttle Launch

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Chris Bray and his father Kenneth attended the first space shuttle launch 30 years ago and even though they hadn’t seen any other launches in person since, they decided to make the journey to see the final launch to ‘bookend’ the shuttle program in their lives. Plus, they were able to take this great image of father and son at two shuttle launches, “the picture we waited 30 years to complete,” Chris Bray said.

Note the similar shirts and poses, as well as examples of the available technology of the day.

But their odyssey wasn’t without a bit of adventure!

“In addition to being astronomy buffs for as long as I can remember, Dad and I have been big fans and followers of the space program — including all the private endeavors,” Chris Bray told Universe Today. “We’ve only been to the two Shuttle launches. I live in NYC and he lives in NJ, so it’s not always the easiest and most convenient trip to make.”

Chris said that about a year ago when NASA started discussing the last missions, he and his father talked about how nice it would be to go to the last launch since they had attended the first.

“Dad was a jewelry designer and made some of the official shuttle pins for the early STS missions (like this one),” Chris said, “so that’s why we were down there for the first launch. We were lucky enough to get in the lottery for STS-135 and scored some tickets to the Astronaut Hall of Fame viewing site.”

“But we almost didn’t make it! Our flight out of Newark on Thursday the 7th was delayed 5 or so hours and we didn’t get to Orlando until about 2:30 am. On top of that, all the rental cars were gone and despite having a reservation for a car we had no transportation. We eventually were able to rent a 15 seat passenger van (the last available car) from a small rental company and drove straight to the site, bailing on our hotel.”

Chris said both he and his Dad are sad to see the program end, but at the same time excited about the next phase, whatever that might be.

Thanks to Chris for sharing the image with Universe Today.

A Look Back at the First Ever Space Shuttle Mission

As we await the final launch of a space shuttle, here’s a blast from the past: the first ever space shuttle mission (complete with early 80’s funky music). Columbia launched on the first flight (STS-1) on April 12, 1981 and landed in California on April 14.

Re-Live the First Shuttle Flight, 30 Years Ago

Here’s footage from the first space shuttle flight, 30 years ago today on April 12, 1981. One of the big differences you’ll notice is that NASA used to paint the external fuel tank white to match the space shuttle. However, they found they could save about 450 kg (1,000 lbs) by not using paint. Space shuttle Columbia was also outfitted with two ejection seats (which is why there was only a crew of two), but after four flights, NASA made the decision to take out the ejection seats, and to go with a “shirt sleeve” environment inside the shuttle.
Continue reading “Re-Live the First Shuttle Flight, 30 Years Ago”

Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Photo Album – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight

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50 Years ago on April 12,1961 the era of Human spaceflight opened with a roar to the heavens above with the thunderous blastoff of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard the Vostok 1 capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome Site No.1 at 9:07 a.m. Moscow time. Gagarin, at the age of 27, dared to brave the perils of the unknown and became the first human being to be strapped atop a rocket, ascend to outer space and view what no one else had ever seen, the entire Earth as a sphere. A bold and courageous test flight in every dimension. And the effects of weightlessness had only been tested on dogs – not people.

Herein is a picture album of significant launch day events, including three collages of rare photos of Yuri Gagarin climbing up the launch tower and boarding the Vostok 1 spacecraft for the historic liftoff of the first manned spaceflight on April 12, 1961.

Sergei Korolev, “Chief Designer” of the Soviet Space program radioed, “LIFT OFF! We wish you a good flight. Everything is all right.”

Yuri Gagarin in orbit
“Poyekhali!”, Gagarin replied “[Off we go!].”

“I see Earth! It is so beautiful!” Gagarin said from orbit. “I see rivers. Visibility is good.”

Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency, put out a call for anyone interested in Yuri Gagarin and the birth of the human space exploration era to share their documents, photos and other information with the public – and the fabulous collages resulted from the response.

Do you have photos or memories of Gagarin ? Send them to Ken. Gagarin traveled widely as an ambassador of goodwill, bridging the dangerous ideological gulf between East and West during the height of the Cold War.

Gagarin’s flight lasted 108 minutes for a single orbit around the Earth. The mission was brought to a close with the de-orbit firing of the reentry rockets. Gagarin ejected from the capsule at 7 km altitude because the hard landing of the capsule was too dangerous for people. So he parachuted safely to the ground. April 12 has been celebrated as Cosmonautics Day in Russia every year since 1962. Vostok 1 was Gagarin’s only flight

Tragically, Gagarin’s life ended on March 27, 1968. He was flying a routine training mission in a MiG-15UTI fighter with flight instructor Vladimir Seryogin when the plane suddenly crashed near the town of Kirzhach. Gagarin was laid to rest in the wall of the Kremlin on Red Square.

In honor of this 50th anniversary of the dawn of Human spaceflight, a global network of over 444 Yuri’s Night parties are being staged worldwide on April 12, 2011 to celebrate one of the humankind’s greatest achievements – that’s double the number from 2010.

20 years after Gagarin’s flight, NASA’s first space shuttle blasted off on the STS-1 mission on April12, 1981.

You can join in the local Yuri’s Night festivities taking place in more than 70 countries from Afghanistan (visited by Gagarin in Dec. 1961) to Vietnam. Or join Ken in Princeton Junction, New Jersey for a free presentation about Gagarin’s flight and my behind the scenes look at the space shuttle and beyond.

Send Ken your “Yuri’s Night” event photos/report and any photos of Yuri Gagarin to publish at Universe Today. Email kremerken at yahoo dot com

Read Ken’s other stories about Yuri Gagarin and Yuri’s Night:
Countdown to Yuri’s Night and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight !
Stirring Video Tributes to Yuri Gagarin

Roscosmos website
Yuri’s Night Website
Yuri’s Night Party list
Yuri’s Night Party with Ken in Princeton Junction, NJ, USA
First Orbit Website
STS-1 NASA Mission Website
Ken Kremer

Yuri Gagarin - First Spaceman
On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1). Credits: alldayru.com
Rollout and Erection of Vostok 1 Credits: alldayru.com
Yuri Gagarin suits up for launch
Yuri Gagarin seen dressing in a heating/cooling garment worn under his orange pressure suit. On 12 April 1961, Gagarin became the first human to travel into space, launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1). Credits: alldayru.com
Gagarin heads to the launch pad on April 12, 1961
Yuri Gagarin on the bus on the way to the launch pad with cosmonaut German Titov behind him. Titov was the back-up pilot who later became pilot of Vostok 2. Credit: NASA
Rare Photos of Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Launch on April, 12, 1961 – First Human Spaceflight.
Collage of rare photos of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin boarding Vostok 1 spacecraft and historic launch of first manned spaceflight on April 12, 1961 from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site No.1 at 9:07 a.m. Moscow time (607 UTC), Soviet Union. Gagarin is greeted by Oleg Ivanvosky who now works in the museum of Lavochkin R&D. Credits: Oleg Ivanvosky/ Evgeny A. Sivukhin/Lavochkin R&D/Roscosmos
Rare Photos of Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Launch on April, 12, 1961 – First Human Spaceflight.
Collage of rare photos of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin boarding Vostok 1 spacecraft and historic launch of first manned spaceflight on April 12, 1961 from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site No.1 at 9:07 a.m. Moscow time (607 UTC), Soviet Union. Gagarin is greeted by Oleg Ivanvosky who now works in the museum of Lavochkin R&D. Credits: Oleg Ivanvosky/ Evgeny A. Sivukhin/Lavochkin R&D/Roscosmos
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin strapped inside Vostok 1 capsule on April 12, 1961
Launch of Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 on 12 April 1961 opens Era of Human Spaceflight
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to journey into outer space by launching to orbit aboard Vostok 1.
Vostok 1 Landing
Here the reentry capsule of the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1) is seen with charring and its parachute on the ground after landing south west of Engels, in the Saratov region of southern Russia. Gagarin ejected from the capsule at 7 km altitude and parachuted safely to the ground. Credits: alldayru.com
Stamps published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's mission. Credit: Roscosmos

Countdown to Yuri’s Night and the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight !

Celebrate Yuri’s Night on April 12, 2011 -- 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
On April 12, 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (left, on the way to the launch pad) became the first human in space, making a 108-minute orbital flight in his Vostok 1 spacecraft.
Newspapers like The Huntsville Times (right) trumpeted Gagarin's accomplishment.
Credit: NASA
Send Ken your Yuri’s Night event reports and photos

Mark your calendars. April 12, 2011 marks the 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight and Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s astonishing First Orbit of our precious planet Earth on April 12, 1961. Gagarin was the first human to enter outer space and see what no one else had ever witnessed – our commonly shared Earth as a planet and beautiful blue globe with no borders.

Space enthusiasts worldwide are celebrating this watershed moment in Human history at a network of over 400 “Yuri’s Night” parties taking place in more than 70 countries on 6 continents and 2 worlds, according to the official “Yuri’s Night” website.

Gagarin’s flight took place in the midst of the inflammatory Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States and shocked the world into new realities. The Space Race led to the first lunar landing by the United States and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moons surface in 1969. Eventually, the world’s superpowers beat swords into plowshares and united their efforts to build the International Space Station.

Yuri Gagarin - first human in space. Credit: Russian Archives
Yuri Gagarin was the first person to boldly leave the bonds of Earth’s gravity and thus became the first “Spaceman”. Gagarin blasted off inside the bell-shaped Vostok 1 spaceship from the launch pad at Baikonur at 9:07 a.m, Moscow time (607 UTC) to begin the era of human spaceflight.

Gagarin flew around the Earth in a single orbit at an altitude of 302 kilometers (187 miles). The flight lasted 108 minutes and safely ended when he descended back and parachuted to the ground, just north of the Caspian Sea. At the age of 27, Gagarin was instantly transformed into a worldwide hero. After the momentous flight he soon embarked on an international tour.

20 years later on April 12, 1981, NASA’s first space shuttle blasted off on the STS-1 mission on a daring test flight with astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen strapped inside Space Shuttle Columbia.

Russian postcard featuring Yuri Gagarin

The first “Yuri’s Night – World Space Party” was held on April 12, 2001 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Gagarin’s spaceflight. Over 10,000 people attended 64 events located worldwide. The goal was to inspire people, increase awareness and support for space exploration across the globe and foster the spread of new ideas to broaden our access to space.

“Yuri’s Night” has been growing in popularity every year. Events range in size from a few folks to numbers in the thousands. Attendees range from astronauts and cosmonauts, NASA and global space agency officials and reps, scientists and engineers, famous actors, playwrights, writers, artists, athletes and musicians to just everyday folks and kids of all ages and backgrounds. Everyone can get involved.

Yuri Gagarin in orbit
In honor of the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight, documentary film maker Christopher Riley conceived and created a film titled “First Orbit” to try and show the approximate view of Earth that Gagarin actually saw. There is only scant footage of Gagarin’s actual flight and he himself took no pictures of the Earth from orbit.

“First Orbit” recreates much of the view of the Earth’s surface that Gagarin would have seen fifty years ago. Mostly he flew over the world oceans as well as the Soviet Union and Africa.

Riley collaborated with the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, chiefly Paolo Nespoli of ESA, who took film footage from the new 7 windowed Cupola as the station matched the actual flight path of Gagarin and Vostok 1 as closely as possible. The free film celebrates 50 years of human spaceflight.

“First Orbit” premiers worldwide on YouTube in a special global streaming event for Yuri’s Night on April 12 . Watch the short trailer below, with original and stirring music by Philip Sheppard.

Orbital flight path of Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961
Gagarin’s call sign was Cedar or Kder - which means Siberian Pine in Russian. Map courtesy of Sven Grahn

It’s easy and free to register your local party at the Yuri’s Night event website. There is still time to register your Yuri’s Night party – Indeed the list has grown as I typed out this story !

Some events are already set to kick off this weekend. I’ll be presenting at an interactive and free Yuri’s Night evening event in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, about Gagarin’s flight and my experiences with the space shuttle and what‘s beyond.

Send Ken your “Yuri’s Night” event photos/short report to post in a round up story at Universe Today about the global festivities celebrating the historic achievement of Yuri Gagarin. Email kremerken at yahoo dot com

First Orbit Trailer II

Russian built Mini Research Module MRM-1 launched aboard US Space Shuttle Atlantis in May 2010.
Shuttle Atlantis delivered MRM-1 (known as Rassvet) to the International Space Station.
MRM-1 undergoes final prelaunch processing inside clean room at Astrotech Space Operations Facility in Florida. Docking port to ISS is protected by red colored covering. Equipment airlock for experiments at top. Russian Flag mounted at left.
Rassvet underscores the cooperation that exists today, in stark contrast to their rivalry during the Cold War. Russia, the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada have now united their space exploration efforts to build the International Space Station. The worlds space powers cooperate in other space exploration projects today as well that venture to the Moon, Mars and beyond to Deep Space. Credit: Ken Kremer

Read Ken’s other stories about Yuri Gagarin and Yuri’s Night:
Yuri Gagarin and Vostok 1 Photo Album – 50th Anniversary of Human Spaceflight
Stirring Video Tributes to Yuri Gagarin

Yuri’s Night Website
Yuri’s Night Party list
Yuri’s Night Party with Ken in Princeton Junction, NJ, USA
First Orbit Website
STS-1 NASA Mission Website
Ken Kremer