Celebrating April 12, 1961: Happy Yuri’s Night and 30 Years of Shuttle Flights
Today is the 50th anniversary of the flight into space of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. In the annals of the big space race between the United States and the Former Soviet Union, Gagarin carried the Soviet hopes aloft, beating the United States’s own effort to put a person into orbit. He climbed into his Vostok spacecraft, was launched into a single orbit of our home planet and returned safely to the planet — all on the same day in 1961.
Of course, this feat was a smack in the face of the U.S. space effort, which wasn’t doing well at the time. But, in time, I think we’ve all come to see what a great first step it was — and the effect it had on NASA’s own plans for space dominance. We may have had a space race for a decade, but since those days, the domain of space exploration has become — as it should always have been — a multi-national effort. And for that, we have this man to thank.
Cosmonaut Gagarin never flew into space again, but his achievement marks an important step for humans in space. Following in his trail have been a solid line of astronauts and cosmonauts who claimed space (and, for the U.S. the Moon) as the place to explore.
In the 50 years since Cosmonaut Gagarin’s trip to space, hundreds of people have gone into space. They’ve lived in and explored the near-Earth environment. A few went to the Moon. And many more of us have watched as they did so. Some of us even dreamed of doing it ourselves. And, in a most fitting coincidence, we’re also celebrating 30 years of NASA’s shuttle program — the fleet of vehicles that made so many discoveries possible.
On this special anniversary — and to celebrate Yuri’s Night and the commemoration of the shuttle program — here’s a toast to the man who did it first and the folks who built, maintained and flew the space shuttles: