It’s Yuri’s Night: A Celebration of Space Exploration

Yuri Gagarin portrait

Getty Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata sign his autograph on a drawing depicting Yuri Gagarin.

April 12 is Yuri’s Night; a night devoted to international space exploration. The holiday was named after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person in space. Gagarin successfully flew the Vostok I spaceship on April 12, 1961.

Yuri’s Night also celebrates the launch of the STS-I, the first transorbital flight of NASA’s flight program. The STS-I was launched on April 12, 1981, 20 years to the day of Yuri Garagin’s launch.

Yuri’s Night is sometimes called the World Space Party. It is celebrated in over 350 events in 57 countries around the world.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Gagarin’s Flight Was a Win For Russia in The Space Race

Newspaper cover featuring Yuri Gagarin.

GettyNewspaper cover featuring Yuri Gagarin.

The Space Race refers to a rivalry between the US and the former USSR during the Cold War to dominate the field of space exploration. The Space Race is considered to have started in August of 1955 when the US announced that it would be sending a satellite into orbit. Mere days later, the Soviet Union responded that it, too, would be sending a satellite into space in the near future. Thus, the Space Race began.

The Soviet Union launched the Sputnik I satellite in October of 1957, before the US was able to complete a launch. When Yuri Gagarin piloted the Vostok I in 1961, he was officially the first person in space. This represented another major win for the USSR in the Space Race.

The culmination of the Space Race is typically considered to be the successful lunar landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969 when American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. The USSR was dissolved in 1991. Since then, the US and Russia have worked together in the field of space exploration in a cooperative effort on several projects.

2. Gagarin Died When The Jet He Was Piloting Crashed

Yuri Gagarin

GettyYuri Gagarin waving at the crowd.

When Gagarin flew the Vostok I into space in 1961, there was little hope that he would ever return to Earth alive. When he safely parachuted down after his mission, it was miraculous. He was named the Hero of the Soviet Union and became an even bigger celebrity than before. Gagarin was considered to be a hero around the world, not just in the USSR, despite the tensions of the Cold War. For more information on how the Vostok worked, check out this article from

Gagarin would become deputy director of the Cosmonaut Training Center in Moscow. The Vostok I would be his only mission into space. Earlier in his career, he excelled as a test pilot in the Soviet Air Force. He was one of many decorated officers considered to be a cosmonaut by the Soviet government. Ultimately, Gagarin was selected for his skills as a pilot, his background and training, his academic success and his size. There was very little room inside the Vostok I, and Gagarin was 5’2″.

Tragedy struck on March 27, 1968. Gagarin and another flight instructor, Vladimir Seryogin were killed when the MiG they were flying crashed during a routine flight. Gagarin’s remains were cremated and buried on the grounds of the Kremlin. He was survived by a wife and two daughters.

3. Neil Armstrong Walked on The Moon in 1969

Neil Armstrong

GettyAstronaut Neil Armstrong.

Following Gagarin’s successful launch into space, the Space Race between the US and the USSR continued to intensify. The pressure was on to see who could get a man on the moon first, and on July 20, 1969, it would be Neil Armstrong. He was the captain of the Apollo 11 mission which successfully completed a lunar landing. Armstrong famously said “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” upon walking on the moon.

Eventually, the terms of a joint effort between the US and the USSR were agreed upon, and tensions began to de-escalate. The Space Race resulted in major advances in the field of space exploration. Technology progressed by leaps and bounds.

Following the dissolution of the USSR, cooperation between the US and Russia continued to progress. To keep up with the latest news about space exploration, check out

4. The Future of Space Exploration

Yuri portrait

GettyA portrait of Yuri Gagarin in Russia.

It is anticipated that NASA is planning another trip to the moon. In fact, NASA is even working on getting humans on Mars, though it’s unknown when.

NASA is developing a new space exploration vehicle known as the Orion. The Orion has been called “the Apollo on steroids.” The Orion capsules are bigger than previous models and can carry up to four crew members to and from the International Space Station comfortably. NASA is aiming to use Orion capsules to facilitate a manned mission to the moon in the 2020s.

Of course, there is also the industry of private spaceflight. We have seen the advent of private rockets being launched into space; most notably Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

“Others, such as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, have shown interest in specializing in space tourism. Test launch video from inside the cabin of Blue Origin’s New Shepard shows off breathtaking views of our planet and a relatively calm journey for its first passenger, a test dummy cleverly dubbed “Mannequin Skywalker.” The New Shepard is expected to have its first manned launch later this year,” reports National Geographic.

5. You Can Celebrate Yuri’s Night

Welcome Yuri

GettyA sign welcoming Yuri Gagarin to Paris.

It is estimated that hundreds of events will be held this weekend celebrating Yuri’s Night worldwide – truly living up to the nickname of being the “World Space Party.”

“According to organizers, the events as part of the Yuri’s Night will be held around the world. The 57th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight aboard the Vostok 1 spaceship will be marked in the expedition camp in the heart of the Sakhara, at the US Palmer Station in Antarctica, and at schools in India and Japan. The celebrations will be also held in Finland’s Tampere Lenin Museum and the British Interplanetary Society in London, the masquerade ball in Ireland’s Dublin, in the H.R. MacMillan Space Center in Canada’s Vancouver, the Space Station Museum in Novato, California, and the Space Foundation Discovery Center and in the Museum of Flight in Seattle,” reports

If you are interested in celebrating Yuri’s Night with some astronauts, head to the Kennedy Space Center for its annual celebration. More information is available here.

To find a local Yuri’s Night event near you, check out the official website.