Anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's spaceflight marks fifty years of human space travel

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Yuri Gagarin, the first human to visit space, during a 1964 visit to Sweden.
Image: Arkiv: Sydsvenskan.

On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin lifted off on Vostok 1, the first human spaceflight in history, completing one orbit of the Earth in just under two hours. Tuesday marks the anniversary of Gagarin's flight and fifty years of human space travel.

Celebrations were to take place all over the world and aboard the International Space Station. Yuri's Night, started in 2001 for fortieth anniversary celebrations, is a global celebration of the history of spaceflight, including the first Space Shuttle launch on April 12, 1981, the twentieth anniversary of Gagarin's flight. There were to be more than 400 events in 71 countries celebrating Yuri's Night this year.

Gagarin's flight lasted 108 minutes, just under two hours, and consisted of one full orbit around the Earth. His trip to orbit came just four years after the launch of Sputnik 1 and the beginning of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR).

The crew on board the International Space Station (ISS) also marked the fiftieth anniversary by delivering a message from space. While addressing viewers, station commander Dmitry Kondratyev referred to the portrait of Gagarin floating next to him as a representation of the achievement of "humankind at large".

A movie, entitled First Orbit, was filmed in parts in space when the orbit of the ISS matched that of Gagarin's flight. The movie, produced by filmmaker Christopher Riley, was filmed by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli and matches the radio communications, times, and views of the flight. The film is freely available to the public and made its debut on Tuesday to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the human race becoming a space-faring species.


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