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Thursday Night is Yuri’s Night

How will you celebrate human spaceflight on April 12?

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Yuri Gagarin on his way to Vostok Launch. Photo: NASA Collection / Asif Siddiqi

Tomorrow marks the 51st year since humans first went into space. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin launched aboard Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961, completed one orbit of the Earth, and landed one hour and 48 minutes later. Twenty years later on the same date, the U.S. introduced its space shuttle with the launch of STS-1. Astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen took Columbia on its maiden voyage around Earth (37 times) to check out all the systems, gliding back to the ground just over two days later.

On the 40th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight, April 12, 2001, the first World Space Party celebrated “humanity’s past, present, and future in space.” Yuri’s Night became an annual celebration that now has over 200 events on all seven continents, including costume parties, stargazing events, art exhibits and, often, the launch of new projects related to space history.

Some of us at Air & Space HQ in Washington, D.C. will be headed to Science Club (yes, we have a bar named Science Club, how great is that?) to try to build up our nerd-cred in their Space Trivia contest, then may show off our lunar dance moves at Artisphere this Saturday. You can find plenty of other events, from Moscow (naturally) to the South Pole, at the Yuri’s Night website.

The 51st anniversary of anything can be a bit of a downer after the extra-celebration for that auspicious five-oh number the year before, but some of last year’s projects are worth revisiting, like British filmmaker Christopher Riley’s re-telling of Gagarin’s flight, First Orbit. Riley, whose work also includes In the Shadow of the Moon and the BBC series, The Planets, dug up audio files to tell the story in the cosmonaut’s own words. This year, the British Interplanetary Society is using Yuri’s Night to kick off screenings of First Orbit in 30 languages through the end of May. If you can’t make it to London to see it on the big screen, you can still watch the full-length movie on YouTube.

It seems like there’s always a new angle of any story to tell, so here’s a photo book that was published last year, Road to Gagarin, which we mostly enjoyed because of this weird little film — about a goose farm in Cuba named for Gagarin — the authors made while researching the book.

How will you celebrate human spaceflight tomorrow?

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