That’s right, April 12th is the celebration of the first successful manned space flight by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961. This year, the United Nations have made it an official resolution, with more than 50 states taking part in drafting the document. However, in Russia, they have been celebrating this day since 1962.
Yuri Gagarin was a 27-year-old cosmonaut who circled the Earth on the Vostok 1 spacecraft before returning successfully – and safely – back to Soviet soil after 1 hour and 48 minutes. Yuri instantly became a national hero of the Soviet Union and a world-famous figure. His accomplishment was celebrated with lavish parades so elaborate and spectacular, they are only overshadowed by the majesty of the Soviet World War II victory parades. Yuri also earned the country’s highest honor, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
Today, the official celebration continues with an annual ceremony in the Russian city of Korolyov, followed by a visit to Gagarin’s grave in the Red Square, continuing on to Cosmonauts Alley and the Monument to the Conquerors of Space and concludes with a visit to the Noyodevichy Cemetery.
Meanwhile other countries around the world honor Yuri Gagarin’s memory by holding Yuri’s night – a worldwide party to celebrate Yuri’s accomplishment and to promote space travel and exploration. This year there will be nearly 470 events in 71 different countries.
If you plan on celebrating Cosmonauts Day, here are some interesting facts about Yuri and his mission that you can use to impress your friends and other space-loving acquaintances.
* Yuri was a 27-year-old Senior Lieutenant in the Soviet Air Force. Gagarin was chosen for this mission because of his outstanding performance in training, peer votes and because he was rather short – the Vostok 1 cockpit was very small.
* Yuri was not the first living thing to go into space. The United States sent fruit flies to space in 1947, Albert II, a rhesus monkey, in 1949, and several mice in the 50s. The first living being to complete an orbit was a dog named Laika, sent up by the Soviet Union in 1957, followed by two more dogs, Belka and Strelka, in 1960. Ham the Chimp was the first chimpanzee launched into space by the United States in January ’61, just months before Yuri’s historic flight.
* Apparently on his way to the launch pad, Yuri had to stop the bus so he could “relieve himself” before taking off. Today, all male cosmonauts observe this sacred launch-day tradition based on Yuri’s preflight experience.
* Right before takeoff, Yuri and rocket designer, Sergei Korolyov, were discussing last minute preparations. Sergei reminded him that he had sausage, candy and jam (to go with tea!) Yuri’s response “The main thing is that there is sausage – to go with the moonshine!”
* In a 2010 Space Foundation survey, Gagarin was ranked the 6th most popular space hero, tied with James T. Kirk, captain of the Starship Enterprise (on the television show Star Trek).
* During the fall of the Soviet Union, many statues of Russia’s Communist leaders were torn down and destroyed; however, Yuri’s statues were preserved.
If you plan on celebrating this day in honor of Yuri Gagarin, leave a comment with your plans or a picture! We’d love to share them with others.