On April 12th, 1961, history was made when the first human being – Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin – went into space. Similarly, on April 12th, 1981, the inaugural launch of the Space Shuttle took place. In recognition of these accomplishments, people from all around the world have been celebrating “Yuri’s Night” – a global festival honoring humanity’s past, present, and future in space – for over a decade and a half.
This year will mark the 56th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic flight and of human spaceflight in general. As with every Yuri’s Night that has happened since 2001, this year’s festivities will feature educational events, presentations and games (along with general revelry) at venues located all across the world. Do you have any plans for Yuri’s Night 2017? And if not, perhaps you would like to know what’s happening?
Plenty of events have been planned for this year that are sure to appeal to science enthusiasts and those with a passion for space exploration. One of the highlights for 2017 is a chance to enjoy a virtual reality space vacation, which comes courtesy of the fun folks at Guerilla Science – a London and New York-based group that specializing in creating educational events and installations for festivals, museums, galleries, etc.
For the sake of this year’s Yuri’s night, they are offering people a chance to experience a VR application that allows people to experience a trip to Mars’ Mariner Valley, or to take a self-guided tour on the Moon using the clicker to navigate. To learn more about this application (which is also available for beta testing), be sure to check out Guerilla Science’s “Intergalactic Travel Bureau“. As they describe the bureau’s purpose on their website:
“The Intergalactic Travel Bureau is a live, interactive experience that explores the incredible possibilities of space tourism through personalized space vacation planning experiences. It’s a little bit like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX meet the Jetsons and Mad Men. Bringing together space scientists, astronomers, science educators, actors and the general public, the Bureau has popped up all over the UK and the US since 2011.”
In addition, a virtual event is being hosted by Spacelog, a volunteer organization dedicated to sharing mission transcripts and photographs that celebrate the history of space exploration. In commemoration of Gagarin’s historic flight, they will be publishing the transcripts of the Vostok 1 mission on their Facebook page. Like the mission itself, the event will start at 4:10 am UTC and conclude at 07:55 UTC on Wednesday, April 12th.
For those interested, the Yuri’s Night Global Team (led by Veronica Ann Zabala-Aliberto) is still seeking Regional Team Leaders to help provide support, coordination, and resources for the hundreds of Yuri’s Night parties that have been planned. In addition to organizers and outreach personnel, the Global Team is also seeking translators who are fluent in Arabic and Turkish. To check out what positions are available, go to their website.
So far, a total of 127 events have been registered in 38 countries, and on 7 continents. That’s right, an event has even been planned for Antarctica, specifically in Loung B3 at the South Pole Station (located at the geographic South Pole). So if you’re in the area – for whatever reason, possibly doing field studies on Emperor Penguins or something! – be sure to swing by!
To find an event in your neck of the woods, consult the full list here. And if you are interested in hosting one, you can register at the Yuri’s Night website. The website is also looking for donations to keep their volunteer and community efforts going.
Wherever you happen to land on April 12th, be sure to raise a glass to all those who have risked life and limb over the past fifty-plus years to establish humanity as a space-faring species!
On April 12th, 1961, the first human being broke free of the gravity bond with Earth, and orbited the planet.
Though most everyone is familiar with the American Apollo astronauts who walked on the Moon, what it took to get there, and the “One small step…” of Neil Armstrong, fewer people are familiar with Yuri Gagarin, the Soviet cosmonaut who was the first human in space. He orbited Earth in his Vostok 1 spacecraft for 108 minutes.
Gagarin became an international celebrity at the time. He received the USSR’s highest honor, the Hero of the Soviet Union. Quite an honor, and quite an achievement for someone who, as a child, survived the Nazi occupation of Russia by living in a tiny mud hut with those members of his family who were not deported for slave labour by the Germans.
The Space Race between the USA and the USSR was in full swing at the time of Gagarin’s flight, and only one month after Gagarin’s historic journey, American astronaut Alan Shepard reached space. But Shepard’s journey was only a 15 minute sub-orbital flight.
Gagarin only has one space flight to his credit, aboard the Vostok 1 in 1961. He did serve as back-up crew for the Soyuz 1 mission though. Gagarin was a test pilot before becoming a cosmonaut, and he died while piloting a Mig-15 fighter jet in 1968.
Space travel in our age is full of ‘firsts.’ It’s the nature of our times. But there can only ever be one first person to leave Earth, and that accomplishment will echo down the ages. Scores of people have been into space now. Their accomplishments are impressive, and they deserve recognition.
Picture if you will two titanic powers struggling to see who will be the first to conquer space. Between them, they have the best scientists in the world, many of whom they “borrowed” from Germany after the Second World War. They are sparing no expense, and that includes the cost in lives, in order to be the first to get a human being into space.
Sound scary? Well, if you were an American astronaut or a Soviet cosmonaut in the 1960’s, it sure would be! But for men like Yuri Gagarin, the first man to go into man in space (and also the first man to orbit the Earth) the rewards would last a lifetime.
Like most heroes of the space age, Gagarin’s story began in his infancy. Born to Alexey Ivanovich Gagarin and Anna Timofeyevna Gagarina in the village of Klushino, Russia (Smolensky Oblast) on March 9th, 1934, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin began his life on a collective farm and witnessed some terrible things in his early years.
In 1941, the village was occupied by the Nazis, and the Gagarin family was forced to relocate to a mud hut on their property as a German officer took possession of their house. His two older siblings were deported to Poland for slave labor in 1943, and did not return until after the war in 1945.
Another version of Gagarin’s biography suggests that the family relocated east of the Urals ahead of the Nazi advance, and returned to the region after the war. In either case, by 1946, the family moved to the nearby town of Gzhatsk, where Gagarin continued his secondary education.
At the age of 16, Gagarin entered into an apprenticeship as a foundryman at the Lyubertsy Steel Plant near Moscow, and also enrolled at a local “young workers” school for seventh grade evening classes. After graduating in 1951, he was selected for further training at the Saratov Industrial Technical School.
While there, Gagarin volunteered for weekend training as a Soviet air cadet at a local flying club, where he learned to fly biplanes and the Yak-18 trainer. He graduated from technical school in 1955, and was drafted into the Soviet Army.
In 1957, he was sent to the First Chkalov Air Force Pilot’s School in Orenburg, where he trained on Mig-15 jet fighters. While there, he met Valentina Ivanovna Goryacheva, a medical technician graduate of the Orenburg Medical School. The two were married on 7 November 1957, the same day Gagarin graduated from Orenburg.
By 1960, Gagarin had earned the rank of Senior Lieutenant and had come to the attention of the Soviet space program. After a rigorous selection process, he became one of 20 pilots selected to become a cosmonaut, and was further selected to be part of an elite training group known as the Sochi Six – from which the first cosmonauts of the Vostok program would be chosen.
Out of the twenty selected, Gagarin and fellow cosmonaut Gherman Titov were selected to be the first cosmonauts to go into space. This was due to a combination of factors, including their performance during training sessions, their height (since space was limited in the small Vostok cockpit), and by an anonymous vote by the members of the program.
Gagarin’s historic flight took place on April 12th, 1961, roughly one month before NASA was able to put a manned spacecraft of their own into space. His spaceship, the Vostok 1, weighing approximately 4700 kg (over 10,000 pounds), was quite primitive by modern standards. For starters, the craft wasn’t even piloted by Gagarin himself, mainly because the Russians had not yet tested the effects of weightlessness on any humans (only dogs!).
The actual flying was done by crews on the ground. It also had no maneuvering capabilities and consisted of a re-entry craft and service module. The cosmonaut was not even allowed to land in the re-entry craft because it was deemed too dangerous, and had to instead leave the craft and parachute to the ground.
Gagarin’s flight began with his takeoff at the Baikonur Cosmodrome and ended with him parachuting safely to the ground in Kazakhstan one hour and forty-eight minutes later. During the flight, he was said to have been humming “The Motherland Hears, the Motherland Knows”, a patriotic song composed by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.
According to western sources at the time, Gagarin was also rumored to have said “I don’t see any God up here” during his flight. However, the transcripts contradict this story, which appears to have been a reference to a remark Khrushchev had made after the flight and was falsely attributed to Gagarin. What he is known to have said during the flight was: “The Earth is blue… How wonderful. It is amazing.”
Retirement and Death:
Gagarin gained worldwide fame and recognition after the flight, touring Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan before returning home to Star City to continue his work with the Russian space program. He was no longer allowed into active service given his celebrity status, the government fearing that they might lose their poster boy in an accident.
This would prove to be an ironic decision, considering that seven years later, he died in an accident during a training flight. This occurred on March 27th, 1968, when Gagarin’s plane crashed and he and his instructor were killed. For many years, the circumstances surrounding the accident remained shrouded in mystery, and were the subject of much speculation and rumor.
In 2013, the truth about his death was finally revealed when the report detailing the incident was declassified. In an article that appeared on Russia Today, former cosmonaut Aleksey Leonov shared the details of the report, which indicated that the crash was the result of an unauthorized Su-15 fighter flying too close to Gagarin’s MiG, thus disrupting its flight and sending it into a spin.
In Russia, and around the world, Gagarin has gone down in history as one of the greatest astronauts/cosmonauts of all time and one of the biggest contributors to human space flight. For his accomplishments, he has been immortalized by numerous countries, and in countless ways.
In addition to commemorative coins, a hockey cup named in his honor and several commemorative stamps, he was given the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union” – a privilege reserved only for a select few. Numerous statues have also been erected in his honor, such as the one that towers over the town square in Karaganda, Kazakhstan (shown above).
Since 1962, April 12th has been celebrated in the USSR, and later in Russia and other post-Soviet states, as the Cosmonautics Day, in honor of his historic flight. In 2011, it was declared the International Day of Human Space Flight by the United Nations. Since 2001, Yuri’s Night, an international celebration, is held every April 12th to commemorate milestones in space exploration.
The Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City was renamed the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in 1969, which was visited by Neil Armstrong during his tour of the Soviet Union.
The launch pad at Baikonur Cosmodrome from which Sputnik 1 and Vostok 1 were launched is now known as Gagarin’s Start. The village of Klushino where he was born was also renamed Gagarin in 1968 after his death, and his family’s house was converted into a museum.
But perhaps the most notable thing about Gagarin, for which he is remembered most fondly, is his smile. As Sergei Korolev – one of the masterminds behind the early Soviet space program – once said, Gagarin possessed a smile “that lit up the darkness of the cold war”.
There have been many astronauts who have made tremendous contributions to our knowledge of space. But asking “who is the most famous?” is somewhat tricky. For one, its a bit subjective. And second, it can be hard to objectively measure just how important and individuals contributions really are. Surely, all astronauts are deserving of recognition and respect for their bravery and contributions to the pursuit of knowledge.
Nevertheless, in the course of human space exploration, some names do stand out more than others. And some have made such immense contributions that their names will live on long after we too have passed away. So without further ado, here are just a few of the most famous astronauts, along with a list of their accomplishments.
As the first man to ever go into space, no list of famous astronauts would be complete without Yuri Gagarin. Born in the village of Klushino in the Smolensk Oblast on March 9th, 1934, Gagarin was drafted into the Soviet Air Force in 1955 and trained in the use of jet fighters. In 1960, he was selected alongside 19 other pilots to join the newly-formed Soviet Space Program.
Gagarin was further selected to become part of the Sochi Six, an elite group of cosmonauts who formed the backbone of the Vostok program. Due to his training, physical size (as the spacecraft were quite cramped), and favor amongst his peers, Gagarin was selected to be the first human cosmonaut (they had already sent dogs) to make the journey.
On April 12th, 1961, Gagarin was launched aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, and thus became the fist man to go into space. During reentry, Gagarin claimed to have whistled “The Motherland Hears, The Motherland Knows”, and reportedly said, “I don’t see any God up here” when he reached suborbital altitude (which was falsely attributed).
Afterwards, he toured the world and became a celebrity at home, commemorated with stamps, statues, and the renaming of his ancestral village to Gagarin. The 12th of April is also known as “Cosmonauts Day” in Russia and many former Soviet-states in his honor.
Gagarin died during a routine training exercise in March 27th, 1968. The details of his death were not released until June of 2013, when a declassified report indicated that Gagarin’s death was caused by the error of another pilot.
Alan B. Shepard Jr.:
In addition to being an astronaut and one of the Mercury Seven – the first seven pilots selected by NASA to go into space – Shepard was also the first American man to go into space. He was born November 18th, 1923 in Pebble, California and graduated from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree. While in the Navy, Shepard became a fighter pilot and served aboard several aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean.
In 1959, he was selected as one of 110 military test pilots to join NASA. As 0ne of the seven Mercury astronauts, Shepard was selected to be the first to go up on May 5th, 1961. Known as the Freedom 7mission, this flight placed him into a suborbital flight around Earth. Unfortunately, Alan was beaten into space by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin by only a few weeks, and hence became the first American to go into space.
Shepard went on to lead other missions, including the Apollo 14mission – which was the third mission to land on the Moon. While on the lunar surface, he was photographed playing a round of golf and hit two balls across the surface. After leaving NASA, he became a successful businessman. He died of leukemia on July 21st, 1998, five weeks before the death of his wife of 53 years.
Another famous Russian cosmonaut, Tereshkova is also internationally renowned for being the first woman to go into space. Born in the village of Maslennikovo in central Russia on March 6th, 1937, Tereshkova became interested in parachuting from a young age and began training at the local aeroclub.
After Gagarin’s historic flight in 1961, the Soviets hopes to also be the first country to put a woman into space. On 16 February 1962, Valentina Tereshkova was selected to join the female cosmonaut corps, and was selected amongst hundreds to be one of five women who would go into space.
In addition to her expertise in parachuting (which was essential since Vostok pilots were to parachute from the capsule after reentry), her background as a “proletariat”, and the fact that her father was a war hero from the Russo-Finnish War, led to her being selected.
Her mission, Vostok 6, took place on June 16th, 1963. During her flight, Tereshkova orbited Earth forty-eight times, kept a flight log and took photographs that would prove useful to atmospheric studies. Aside from some nausea (which she later claimed was the result of spoiled food!) she maintained herself for the full three days and parachuted down during re-entry, landing a bit hard and bruising her face.
After returning home, Tereshkova went on to become a cosmonaut engineer and spent the rest of her life in key political positions. She married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev and had a daughter. After her flight, the women’s corps was dissolved. Vostok 6 was to be the last of the Vostok flights, and it would be nineteen years before another woman would go into space (see Sally Ride, below).
John Glenn Jr.:
Colonel Glenn, USMC (retired) was a Marine Corps fighter pilot and a test pilot before becoming an astronaut. Due to his experience, he was chosen by NASA to be part of the Mercury Seven in 1959. On February 20, 1962, Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission, and thus became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth and the fifth person to go into space.
For his contributions to spaceflight, John Glenn earned the Space Congressional Medal of Honor. After an extensive career as an astronaut, Glenn retired from NASA on January 16th, 1964, to enter politics. He won his first bid to become a US Senator in 1974, representing Ohio for the Democratic Party, and was reelected numerous times before retiring in January of 1999.
With the death of Scott Carpenter on October 10, 2013, he became the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven. He was also the only astronaut to fly in both the Mercury and Space Shuttle programs – at age 77, he flew as a Payload Specialist on Discovery mission (STS-95). For his history of service, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Neil Armstrong is arguably the most famous astronauts, and indeed one of the most famous people that has ever lived. As commander of the historic Apollo 11 mission, he will forever be remembered as the first man to ever walk on a body other than Earth. Born on August 5th, 1930, in Wapakoneta, Ohio, he graduated from Purdue University and served the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station before becoming an astronaut.
In accordance with the Holloway Plan, Neil studied at Purdue for two years and then committed to three years of military service as a naval aviator before completing his degree. During this time, he trained in the use of jet aircraft and became a test pilot at Andrews Air Force base, meeting such personalities as Chuck Yeager.
In 1962, when NASA was looking to create a second group of astronauts (after the Mercury 7), Armstrong joined and became part of the Gemini program. He flew two missions, as the command pilot and back-up command pilot for Gemini 8 and Gemini 11 (both in 1966), before being offered a spot with the Apollo program.
On July 16th, 1969, Armstrong went into space aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft, alongside “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. On the 20th, after the lunar module set down on the surface, he became the first person to walk on the Moon. As he stepped onto the lunar surface, Armstrong uttered the famous words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
After retiring from NASA in 1971, Armstrong completed his master’s degree in aerospace engineering, became a professor at the University of Cincinnati, and a private businessman.
On Augusts 25th, 2012, he died at the age of 82 after suffering complications from coronary artery bypass surgery. On September 14th, his cremated remains were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean during a burial-at-sea ceremony aboard the USS Philippine Sea.
For his accomplishments, Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
James Lovell Jr.:
Lovell was born on March 25th, 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. Like Shepard, he graduated from the US Naval Academy and served as a pilot before becoming one of the Mercury Seven. Over the course of his career, he flew several missions into space and served in multiple roles. The first was as the pilot of the Apollo 8 command module, which was the first spacecraft to enter lunar orbit.
He also served as backup commander during the Gemini 12 mission, which included a rendezvous with another manned spacecraft. However, he is most famous for his role as commander the Apollo 13 mission, which suffered a critical failure en route to the Moon but was brought back safely due to the efforts of her crew and the ground control team.
Lovell is a recipient of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He is one of only 24 people to have flown to the Moon, the first of only three people to fly to the Moon twice, and the only one to have flown there twice without making a landing. Lovell was also the first person to fly in space four times.
Dr. Sally Ride:
Sally Ride became renowned in the 1980s for being one of the first women to go into space. Though Russians had already sent up two female astronauts – Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982) – Ride was the first American female astronaut to make the journey. Born on May 26th, 1951, in La Jolla, California, Ride received her doctorate from Stanford University before joining NASA in 1978.
On June 18th, 1983, she became the first American female astronaut to go into space as part of the STS-7 mission that flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger. While in orbit, the five-person crew deployed two communications satellites and Ride became the first woman to use the robot arm (aka. Canadarm).
Her second space flight was in 1984, also on board the Challenger. In 1986, Ride was named to the Rogers Commission, which was charged with investigating the space shuttle Challenger disaster. In 2003, she would serve on the committee investigating the space shuttle Columbia disaster, and was the only person to serve on both.
Ride retired from NASA in 1987 as a professor of physics and continued to teach until her death in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. For her service, she was given numerous awards, which included the National Space Society’s von Braun Award, two NASA Space Flight Medals, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Last, but certainly not least, there’s Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut, pilot and engineer who became famous for his rendition of “Space Oddity” while serving as the commander of the International Space Station. Born on August 29th, 1959 in Sarnia, Ontario, Hadfield became interesting in flying at a young age and in becoming an astronaut when he watched the televised Apollo 11 landing at age nine.
After graduating from high school, Hadfield joined the Canadian Armed Forces and spent two years at Royal Roads Military College followed by two years at the Royal Military College, where he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1982. He then became a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, flying missions for NORAD. He also flew as a test pilot out of Andrews Air Force Base as part of an officer exchange.
In 1992, Hadfield became part of the Canadian Space Agency and was assigned to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, as a technical and safety specialist for Shuttle Operations Development. He participated in two space missions – STS-74 and STS-100 in 1995 and 2001, respectively – as a Mission Specialist. These missions involved rendezvousing with Mir and the ISS.
On December 19th 2012, Hadfield launched in the Soyuz TMA-07M flight for a long duration stay on board the ISS as part of Expedition 35. He became the first Canadian to command the ISS when the crew of Expedition 34 departed in March 2013, and received significant media exposure due to his extensive use of social media to promote space exploration.
Forbes described Hadfield as “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut ever to leave Earth”. His promotional activities included a collaboration with Ed Robertson of The Barenaked Ladies and the Wexford Gleeks, singing “Is Somebody Singing?“(I.S.S.) via Skype. The broadcast of this event was a major media sensation, as was his rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity“, which he sung shortly before departing the station in May 2013.
For his service, Hadfield has received numerous honors, including the Order of Canada in 2014, the Vanier Award in 2001, NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2002, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. He is also the only Canadian to have received both a military and civilian Meritorious Service Cross, the military medal in 2001 and the civilian one in 2013.
Her mission was far longer, lasting nearly 3 days (70 hours 50 minutes) for a total of 48 orbits of Earth at altitudes ranging from 180 to 230 kilometers (110 x 144 mi). She conducted biomedical & science experiments to learn about the effects of space on the human body, took photographs that helped identify aerosols in the atmosphere and manually piloted the ship.
“Hey, sky! Take off your hat, I’m coming!” she said in the seconds prior to liftoff.
“I am ready [to go to Mars],” she said in remarks on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of her June 16, 1963 blastoff, according to Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. Apparently Mars is her favorite planet!
“Of course, it’s a dream to go to Mars and find out whether there was life there or not,” Tereshkova said. “If there was, then why did it die out? What sort of catastrophe happened?”
Tereshkova’s landmark flight on Vostok-6 was made ever more historic in that it was actually a joint space mission with Vostok-5; which blasted off barely two days earlier on June 14 with fellow Soviet cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky.
Vostok-5 and Vostok-6 flew within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of one other at one point. They spoke to each other by radio as well as with the legendary Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev. Her call sign was “Seagull”. Bykovsky’s call sign was “Hawk”.
Sergei Korolyov, the father of the Soviet space program, called her “my little seagull.”
Korolev wanted to launch a woman to space to score another spectacular first for the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War with the United States.
So she had been selected as a member of the cosmonaut corps just a year earlier in March 1962 along with four other female candidates. Teseshkova was the only member of that female group ever to achieve orbit.
Tereshkova, a textile factory worker, was chosen in part because she was an expert parachute jumper – a key requirement at that time since the Vostok capsule itself could not land safely. So the cosmonauts had to eject in the last moments of the descent from orbit at about 7,000 m (23,000 ft) and descend separately via parachute.
It would take nearly two decades before another woman – also Soviet- would fly to space; Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982.
The first American female space flyer – Sally Ride – finally reached orbit a year later in 1983 aboard the Space Shuttle.
To date, woman comprise about 10% of the people who have flown to space-57 out of 534.
Today, June 16, there are two women orbiting Earth out of 9 humans total – NASA Astronaut Karen Nyberg aboard the International Space Station and Chinese astronaut Wang Yaping aboard Shenzhou 10.
Vostok-6 was the last of the Vostok spacecraft series.
Bykovsky flew a total of 5 days and 82 orbits. He landed 3 hours after Tereshkova on June 19.
Tereshkova became an instant heroine upon landing, a ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and will forever be known as the ‘First Lady of Space.’
On June 14, Russian Television aired a special 50th anniversary program celebrating the flights of Vostok-5 and Vostok-6 – “Valentina Tereshkova – Seagull and the Hawk”
And don’t forget to “Send Your Name to Mars” aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter- details here. Deadline: July 1, 2013
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.
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 !
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:
Roskosmos – the Russian Federal Space Agency – honors his memory with this stirring video tribute chronicling the Flight of Yuri Gagarin. The outstanding video is set to the song “Seed” with lyrics sung by the Russian Red Army Choir. Dramatic video clips show rare views of Gagarin in training, the actual launch day events and concludes with his grand reception.
Gagarin’s smile is infectious and the video brings him to life. Watch and enjoy – several times . And be prepared to journey back in time to the era of the Space Race and the Soviet Union.
Included below is another music video with more amazing videos clips from the Flight of Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961and a brief video summarizing his all too short life. Gagarin would have been celebrating his 75th birthday on March 9.
Today, people around the globe will celebrate the historic occasion at over 500 Yuri’s Night Events. You can still join in the fun and attend. Find out how at the Yuri Night Website. Or join Ken in Princeton Junction, New Jersey for a free talk about Yuri and another historic space milestone, the 30th Anniversary of the first shuttle flight: STS -1.
And be sure to watch the new film First Orbit, steaming online, which recreates the view that Gagarin would have seen.
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
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
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 !
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