'Yuri's Night' 2018 Space Party Blasts Off Tonight to Mark 1st Human Spaceflight

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin
On April 12, 1961, 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)

Space fans take note: You can meet up with like-minded folks tonight (April 12) for a global celebration of space science and exploration.

Tonight is "Yuri's Night," and events around the world will bring together people of all backgrounds, from children to former astronauts, for a global "Space Party."

The easiest way to find an event near you is to look at the official website, https://yurisnight.net. And if you're tied up tonight, don't despair; some activities will continue into the weekend. For example, tomorrow (April 13), "Yuri's Night Space Coast" will take place near the retired space shuttle Atlantis at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex in Florida. Former NASA astronaut Nicole Stott will make an appearance there. [Vostok 1: How the First Human Spaceflight Worked (Infographic)]

Yuri's Night is named after& Yuri Gagarin, the first human to make it to space. Gagarin launched on April 12, 1961, reaching a maximum altitude of 203 miles (327 kilometers). His Vostok 1 spacecraft made one orbit of Earth, staying aloft for 108 minutes. Because Vostok 1 didn't have engines to land softly, Gagarin parachuted out, making a safe landing.

The Yuri's Night logo (Image credit: Yuri’s Night)

April 12 marks a huge milestone in U.S. space exploration as well. On that day in 1981, the space shuttle Columbia kicked off the shuttle program's first-ever spaceflight , blasting into orbit with astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen aboard. Columbia successfully capped off its two-day space mission with a safe landing, despite the loss of 16 heat-shield tiles

More than 500 individuals have flown to space since 1961. A few have died in the endeavor, and NASA remembers these fallen pioneers every year in a Day of Remembrance, which takes place on the last Thursday in January. 

Astronauts today fly to the International Space Station (ISS) using Russian Soyuz rockets, which lift off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. But NASA has contracted with the companies SpaceX and Boeing to build space taxis for U.S. astronauts. These private vehicles could begin flying in the next year or so. 

While the "space race" of the 1960s featured Soviet cosmonauts and U.S. astronauts, the field has now widened to include astronauts from many other countries. Sixteen nations alone participate in the ISS, while the Chinese have their own orbiting space lab, called Tiangong-2. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace