University of Calgary

RAO open house

April 7, 2011

Yuri’s Night celebrates first flight

By Jennifer Howse

Yuri’s flight into space April 12, 1961 made headlines around the world.Yuri’s flight into space April 12, 1961 made headlines around the world.“I could have gone on flying through space forever.”

This is how Yuri Gagarin, a Russian cosmonaut described his experiences as the first man in space to a New York Times Reporter. Human space exploration became a reality 50 years ago April 12, 1961, when the spaceship Vostok 1 was launched with Senior Lieutenant Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin aboard. The spacecraft orbited Earth one time at an altitude of 187 3/4 miles (302 kilometers) for 108 minutes at 18,000 miles an hour.

Gagarin was an international hero and he was awarded the Order of Lenin and a deputy of the Soviet parliament, the Supreme Soviet. It was an important victory for the Soviet space program during the Cold War and Gagarin travelled to Canada, Europe and Japan after his space flight to promote the Soviet superiority in the Cold War space race.

On the 50th anniversary of this incredible milestone, the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory is hosting a Yuri’s Night Saturday, April 7. Parties and commemoration events are planned around the globe including in Moscow where the Russian Space Agency has invited heads of 49 space agencies and astronauts who took part in space expeditions on Soviet and Russian spacecraft. Russia and other former Soviet republics plan special tributes. The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has already started a Yuri Gagarin 50th anniversary webpage to collect Gagarin memorabilia for showcasing on its website. In the United States, at the Ames Research Centre, NASA is also hosting a huge party which corresponds with another milestone, the 30th anniversary of the first NASA shuttle flight.

During Yuri’s Night at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory, the life and impact of Gagarin will be celebrated with talks, and a recreation of Yuri Gagarin's flight. Don Hladiuk, host of CBC’s Eyeopener “Eye on the Night Sky” will give at fascinating talk on Yuri. Andrew Thielmann an engineer formerly of the Russian Space Agency, has developed an add-in simulation for the Orbiter (Space Flight Simulator) software that shows one of the most realistic audio-visual reproductions of Gagarin's flight ever produced. It includes Yuri’s voice as well as what he saw and heard both inside and outside the capsule.

A tradition of toasting Yuri and his accomplishes has been a part of Yuri’s Night parties since they began in 2001. Fifty-four countries will be joining in this toast. Learn more about international events at A cash bar and Russian appetizers will be available at the Rothney Astrophysical Observatory event.

Tickets for Yuri’s Night at the Observatory can be reserved by contacting Jennifer Howse at

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