First Contact with the Final Frontier: Yuri Gagarin

When he climbed into the metal sphere 41 meters above the ground, what was he thinking?  He’d made it from village to college to cockpit on sheer willpower and savvy smarts.  That day, he strapped himself into place atop the largest conventional bomb of its day, where no human had gone before – ever – and hoped the explosion beneath his feet would lift him up rather than blow him up.  True to the character his student and military colleagues knew,  he kept it real simple:  “Let’s go!”  (“Poyekhali!” in Russian).

On April 12, 1961, humankind touched the leading edge of the final frontier.  Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, raised in a scruffy rural village west of Moscow, reached higher than any human had gone before.  The capsule was minimalist.  Of the cosmonaut team, one of the reasons he was chosen was simply that he was small – 1.57 m (5 ft 2 inches).  But he dreamed big, a pattern that would be followed by human spacefarers in the years to come.

Gagarin was goal-directed from an early age, a survivor whose family scraped out an existence in a hole in the ground during Nazi occupation.  He bootstrapped himself through trade school (metalworking), industrial school, flying school, and ultimately engineering.  Given the rapid changes in technology during and after the war, he was convinced that humans would go into space, and he was determined to be among them.   Gagarin “sweated the small stuff”, like Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and all the spacefarers between and since. Yuri was no Vulcan – the 1000-watt grin that is so characteristic of press photos was sometimes forced, but more often just a reflection of his quirky, always-on sense of  humour.  That unflappable calm kept him at the forefront of cosmonaut candidates.

And so, on April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space.   He went, he saw, he came back. Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has declared 2016 World Cosmonautics Year.   And around the globe since 2001, people celebrate Yuri’s Night ( ) from Antarctica to Iceland, from Cape Town to Canada.  It’s a celebration of human achievement in space, from Persian stargazers to Galileo with his telescopes, to Copernicus who moved the earth out among the planets circling the sun, to the thousands of scientists, engineers and support staff who make each modern launch possible.  Those who boldly go rely on a planetary team.

Come celebrate Yuri’s Night in Port Alberni, and join the World Space Party.  On Tuesday April 12 at Char’s Landing, from 7:00 – 9:00 pm, enjoy space themed beverages and snacks, videos, costume contest and activities.  Char’s birthday just happens to be the same day Gagarin launched – birthday cake at 8:00 pm, and be sure to sign the birthday book! 

Entry is by donation to the SPCA, as we salute the animal astronauts who led the way.  Suggested donation is $5 or equivalent in pet food, toys or bedding. (For hygienic reasons, toys must be new and bedding washed.)

Laika, a stray mutt from the streets of Moscow, was the first Earthling in orbit (above, in a Hungarian commemorative stamp). Dogs, chimps, monkeys, rabbits, mice, rats and other critters were used in test launches.  Of the survivors, Russian dogs Belka and Strelka produced six puppies – one was given to President Kennedy for his children. 

How far we’ve come in just 55 years.  Twenty years after Gagarin, the first space shuttle launched.  Again twenty years, and the first space tourist boarded the International Space Station.  It’s been a long, long road from there to here.   The “firsts” can give you goosebumps:

1957 Oct 4  – first artificial satellite to orbit Earth (Sputnik)
1957 Nov 3 – first living Earthling in orbit (Laika, Russian mutt)
1961 April 12 – first human in space (Yuri A. Gagarin)
1963 June 16 – first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova)
1965 March 18 – first spacewalk (Aleksei Leonov)
1968 Dec 24 – first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon (NASA’s Apollo 8)
1969 July 20 – first human walks on the Moon (Neil Armstrong)
1971 Apr 19 – first space station launched (Salyut I)
1975 July 15 – first international space mission
1981 Apr 12 – first re-useable space shuttle launched (NASA’s Columbia)
2000 Nov 2 – first crew boards International Space Station
2001 Apr 28 – first space tourist boards ISS (Dennis Tito)
2003 Oct 15 – first taikonaut launched (Yang Liwei of China)
2004 June 21 – first private-enterprise reusable spacecraft (SpaceShipOne)
2010 Dec 8 – first private-enterprise spaceship in orbit (SpaceX’s Dragon I)
2015 Jul 11 – longest space mission by a woman (Samantha Cristoforetti, Italy: 200 days)

On April 12, celebrate where we’ve been, explore where we are, dream about where we’re going.  (2016 marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek’s original series.)  Join the world and ROCK THE PLANET!

See you at Char’s Landing!

[Gillian Shearwater is a member of Alberni Deep Space Star Trek Fan Association. The group offers monthly meetings, Trek games nights, video nights and more. Interested in what we do? Comm channels: albernideepspace at gmail dot com or phone 250-724-7293]

DISCLAIMER: Alberni Deep Space Port Star Trek Fan Association is a registered BC non-profit society, affiliated with STARFLEET, the International Star Trek Fan Association, Inc. -- itself a registered not-for-profit based in the United States. Use of trademarked terms is under "fair use" only, as permitted by law. No infringement is implied or intended. This message and this organization are both not-for-profit.


Yuri’s Night global website  

Yuri’s Night at Char’s Landing   href="">   and

The Cosmonaut Who Couldn’t Stop Smiling

Roscosmos – Russian Space News

Reaching for the Stars:  milestones in human spaceflight.

NASA – A Brief History of Animals in Space

Faith of the Heart:  Star Trek Enterprise theme song