Tonight is Yuri's Night. Fifty-two years ago today, Russian, Yuri Gargarin, was launched into out of Earth's atmosphere–the first person to look down on this pale blue dot from outer space. Years later, scientists, astronomy buffs, and generally cool people gather together to celebrate the monumental occasion. Celebrations take place all around the world, but before you get your star-stuff party on, let's talk about the man.
Gargarin, who became an instant celebrity and Soviet national hero, was one of twenty candidates to be the first man launched in the USSR space prgram. His final selection was the result of a vote, wherein each of the twenty men (no women candidates were selected, sigh.) wrote down the name of the person they felt would best represent them in the first mission. Gargarin was the choice of all but three. On the twelfth of April, in 1961, Vostok 1 left the atmosphere, and Yuri Gargarin, call sign Кедр, was the first man to orbit the Earth. In an impossibly calm report post-flight, the cosmonaut said of his experience:
The feeling of weightlessness was somewhat unfamiliar compared with Earth conditions. Here, you feel as if you were hanging in a horizontal position in straps. You feel as if you are suspended.
Sadly, for a man who so loved spaceflight, the Soviet Union wanted to protect their hero, and prevented him from making a second launch. He was the backup cosmonaut for the Soyuz 1 mission, but after it ended in a fatal crash, he was barred entirely. Tragically, Gargarin died at the age of 34, in a routine airplane test flight.
Yuri's Night originated in 2001, the 40th anniversary of his flight. Now, celebrations take place in more than 30 countries around the world. Costumes are encouraged. The image in the post header is actually of cakes (yes, those are cakes) that NASA comissioned for a past Yuri's Night. To find a party near you, look here. There's even one at the South Pole. If there isn't one in your area, find a local observatory, and make plans to visit (link is US specific, unfortunately). Or just wander outside and look at the night sky. Figure out the names and locations of a few stars. Because space is pretty darn neat.
Bonus! Original footage from Yuri's preparations and launch below.
Featured image via CollectSpace
1. NASA: Yuri's Night Index
2. Yuri's Night: World Space Party at yurisnight.net