1st Man in Space: Film, Parties & Twitter Event to Honor Yuri Gagarin Thursday

On 12 April 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space when he launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1).
On 12 April 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space when he launched into orbit on the Vostok 3KA-3 spacecraft (Vostok 1). (Image credit: ESA)

For more than five decades, humans have been suiting up and riding rockets to escape the bonds of Earth, but the anniversary of that historic first flight — which blasted off 51 years ago this week— takes center stage on Thursday (April 12).

To mark the groundbreaking flight of Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961, space geeks worldwide will revel at themed parties, and a filmmaker will tweet the mission's audio transcript live to coincide with the actual time of the flight.

Gagarin became the first human ever to experience space travel when he blasted off aboard the Vostok 1 flight, a 108-minute jaunt that included a full orbit around Earth.

First Orbit

British filmmaker Chris Riley's movie "First Orbit" was released last year on YouTube, and is now out on DVD and Blu-ray. The film uses recently taken footage from the International Space Station to coincide with the exact flight path and timing of Gagarin's flight to give viewers a taste of what Yuri saw. [Photos: Yuri Gagarin, First Man in Space]

For the anniversary, Riley plans to tweet a live running commentary of the film, which will be screening on YouTube at 2:07 a.m. EDT (0607 GMT) — the exact minute of Gagarin's launchall those years ago. He will include snippets of what Gagarin said, as well as descriptions of the places he was passing over at the time. Others from around the world will tweet the mission transcript in many other languages, using the Twitter hashtag #firstorbit.

"I kind of felt like I got to know [Gagarin] a bit making this film, hearing him talking in my ear," Riley told SPACE.com. "I think he would have been thrilled how half a century on, his story and this extraordinary moment in human history have continued to live on in this new media age."

"First Orbit" will also be screened later on that day at many of the "Yuri's Night" parties being thrown around the globe.

The tradition of Yuri's Night began in 2001 to commemorate the anniversary of Gagarin's flight, as well as the anniversary of NASA's first space shuttle launch, which occurred on April 12, 1981. Last year, for the 50-year mark of the Vostok 1 flight, more than 100,000 people attended 567 Yuri's Night parties in 75 countries on all 7 continents, according to the event's organizers.

More than 200 Yuri's Night parties are planned for this year. To find one near you, visit: http://yurisnight.net/.

Recreating the view

The "First Orbit" film came about in 2011 when Riley started wondering what Gagarin's historic experience felt like first-hand.

"I'd always been rather sorry that Gagarin had never filmed anything of his view of the Earth," Riley said. "It seemed like such a significant moment in the history of life on Earth, and not to have footage attached to it was somewhat disappointing."

Around the same time, NASA and its International Space Station partners installed a new 360-degree view window on the orbiting outpost called the Cupola.

"I thought, 'Hey, do you think we could film what Yuri saw by matching the flight path of the space station to Vostok 1?'"

After some research and collaboration with European Space Agency officials, Riley figured out that the space station would offer a view of just what Gagarin saw, from the same position with the same lighting at the same time of day, about every six weeks.

Ultimately, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy, who was living and working on the station from December 2010 to May 2011, was able to capture the footage from inside the Cupola.

Then, Riley matched up the videos with a new musical score, as well as the actual audio track of Gagarin's calls down to Mission Control from Vostok 1.

"It was unbelievably difficult to try to find it, but we actually tracked it down in the [Russian] state archives," Riley said. "It was just the most wonderful thing."

To watch the screening of "First Orbit" on YouTube visit http://www.youtube.com/firstorbit, and follow the director's live Twitter commentary at @alifeofriley.

You can follow SPACE.com assistant managing editor Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the Space.com team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.