Happy Yuri's Night: 9 Out-Of-This-World Facts about Yuri Gagarin and the First Space Shuttle Flight

Happy Yuri's Night! In celebration, here are some facts about the man behind the name and the first ever space shuttle flight.
Christopher McFadden
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Happy Yuri's Night, everybody! To commemorate this world celebration of all things space exploration, here are some interesting facts about Yuri Gagarin as well as the first space shuttle flight.


What is Yuri's Night?

Yuri's Night is an international day of celebration, held on the 12th of April every year to commemorate many milestones in space exploration. It is named after the first human being to ever get into space, Yuri Gagarin.

It is also commonly known as the "World Space Party.

On this day in 1961, Cosmonaut Gagarin flew onboard the Vostok 1 spaceship, completing one of the most important events in space exploration history.

The day is also used to celebrate the very first space shuttle mission, STS-1. This mission occurred exactly 20 years to the day after Gagarin's historic mission on the 12th of April, 1981. 

"Yuri’s Night events combine space-themed partying with education and outreach. These events can range from an all-night mix of techno and technology at a NASA Center, to a movie showing and stargazing at your local college, to a gathering of friends at a bar or barbecue." - Yuri's Night.

The day tends to be celebrated at hundreds of events all over the world. 

However, given the current SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, many planning Yuri's Night events have been canceled this year.

Who was Yuri Gagarin?

As we have previously detailed, Yuri Gagarin was the very first human being to ever fly in space. His 1961 mission lasted for around 108 minutes, and he circled the Earth for just over a single orbit.

Given the momentousness of this mission, he was celebrated as a national hero when he returned to Earth.

Gagarin was the third of four children and was born on the 9th of March, 1934, in a village near Moscow. In his teens, he became obsessed with flying after witnessing a Russian Yak fighter make an emergency landing near his home. 

After training as a pilot, he applied to become a cosmonaut. The rest, as they say, is history. 

What are some interesting facts about Yuri Gagarin and the first space shuttle flight?

So, without further ado, here are some interesting facts about Yuri Gagarin and the first space shuttle mission. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. Yuri Gagarin was only 27-years-old when he made it into space

Yuri Gagarin was a very young man when he entered the history books in 1961. Born in 1934, he was only 27-years-old when he became the first human being to ever orbit the Earth. 

2. Gagarin was launched into space on an old missile

yuri's night r-7 rocket
Source: techred/Wikimedia Commons

The rocket that carried Gagarin aboard the Vostok 1 Spacecraft was actually a repurposed missile. Called R-7 or "Semyorka", this rocket-propelled Gagarin and the Soviet Union into pole position during the space race. 

3. Gagarin actually took off his shoes before entering the spacecraft

According to rumors, Gagarin actually followed Russian traditions when entering the space Vostok Spacecraft. It is customary to take off your shoes before entering a home in Russia, and Gagarin made a good impression on the spacecraft's chief designer Korolev by doing the same when getting into it.

4. Yuri Gagarin was also penciled in for the ill-fated Soyuz 1 mission

Yuri Gagarin became a national hero when he returned to Earth after his successful mission. He was also a highly accomplished cosmonaut too.

For this reason, he was scheduled as the back-up commander for a later space mission, the Soyuz 1 space mission. As we all know today, this mission was doomed to failure and crashed spectacularly on the 24th of April, 1967. 

5. Gagarin didn't actually land using the Vostok 1 spacecraft

Interestingly, despite making a successful re-entry inside the Vostok 1 spacecraft, Gagarin didn't actually land using it. He ejected from the space capsule at around seven km altitude and descended to Earth using a parachute deployed at around 2.5 km from the ground.

6. Gagarin was killed in a tragic crash himself

Despite being saved from death by not being on the Soyuz 1 mission, he was later tragically killed in another crash. In 1968 he was piloting a MiG-15 fighter jet on a routine training flight when he and his co-pilot, mysteriously lost control and the plane catastrophically plummeted to Earth.

But the tragedy was covered up by the Soviet Union for many years. Recently one of Gagarin's colleagues, Alexei Leonov (the first man to complete a spacewalk) revealed the truth. 

6. The first space shuttle mission used the Columbia Space Shuttle

The history-making first space shuttle mission on the 12th of April, 1981, used the Space Shuttle Columbia

7. The mission's objective was to prove the technology

STS-1's mission was to demonstrate the safe launch into orbit and return of the space shuttle and her crew. It was used to verify the combined performance of the entire shuttle vehicle (orbiter, solid rocket boosters and external tank). 

8. STS-1 was the first test new spacecraft mission that was actually manned

One of the most interesting things about the first space shuttle mission was the fact that it was the first time a new spacecraft was proven with an actual crew. Normally, new spacecraft were tested for real unmanned -- for obvious reasons.

Because of this, many warned that the mission might be a complete disaster and even a potential tragedy. Thankfully, everything went according to plan, and the orbiter and her crew safely returned to Earth. 

9. The Space Shuttle Columbia orbited the Earth quite a few times

During the STS-1 mission, the Space Shuttle Columbia, and her crew, orbited the Earth no less than 37 times before returning to Earth.

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