• Alex Taylor

Yuri’s Night

Anniversaries and celebrations have always been an important method to commemorate a wealth of human experiences and the significance they hold. The International Day of Human Spaceflight, popularly known as Yuri’s Night, is one such occasion, that like so many other national days of remembrance has spread beyond its country of origin to offer a moment of unity for everyone. Yuri’s Night, named after the day when USSR cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to enter outer space in 1961. Celebrated in Russia since 1963, Yuri’s Night has since been adopted internationally as the ‘World’s Space Party’, being formally recognised by the UN in 2011. The spread of Yuri’s Night celebrations to an international level is understandable, given both the scope of the achievement and all the milestones that remain to be reached. Although the feat itself occurred at the height of the Cold War, amidst significant geopolitical tension, it highlighted that such actions were possible and after the Cold War ended, has become a truly unifying moment, belonging to all of humanity. This was later clearly enshrined in space law, with the Outer Space Treaty declaring space as ‘the province of all mankind’[1].

Gagarin’s flight illustrated the unifying and inspiring nature of spaceflight itself and its growing celebrations over the years since the event itself emphasises that. Accomplishing the feat of launching Yuri into space and returning him safely made one of humanity’s longest-held dreams; to go to space, where no one has gone before, a reality. Furthermore, it serves as a connection and an inspiration to present and future generations in that the problems and goals found in human spaceflight remain the same. When Gagarin travelled to space, the extent of the risk included fears that attempting the journey would negatively impact Gagarin’s mental health. During the launch, Gagarin was locked out of the Vostok capsule’s controls to prevent his interference, due to psychologists’ concerns that the experience of reaching orbit would cause him to go insane. Instead, he was given a sealed envelope containing an access code, on the logic that if he could still open the envelope and enter the code, his health remained intact[2]. This demonstrates that from the first, the practical element of space exploration has maintained that sense of faith, perseverance and the determination to go to exceptional lengths to satisfy our curiosity that drives our desire to discover, especially about the vast unknown world above our heads. Our understanding of outer space; its challenges and prospects has grown significantly since then and continues to, vastly improving safety as illustrated by the way in which Yuri’s Night celebrates both the richness of possibility but inspiring and encouraging involvement in space exploration to help develop capability as well through human ingenuity. Yet the inherent danger of journeying into outer space’s environment remains the same, making every success as hard-won and momentous as that very first one.

Just as in Gagarin’s time in orbit prompted the more ambitious milestone of landing a person on the moon, as soon as that was accomplished by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969, spaceflight has continued to increase its prospective goals to now include such far-reaching intentions as establishing celestial settlements. For all of the milestones accomplished within the history of human spaceflight, the possibility and the benefits to be accrued has only continued to grow, rather than diminish, demonstrating the vast opportunities and reciprocal progress, that can benefit life on Earth as well as space exploration efforts themselves, waiting in outer space. Amongst these opportunities, is the ability to enable the widening of access of these opportunities to truly reflect the spirit of outer space enshrined in law and policy to provide free access to all celestial bodies[3]. There has been increased international co-operation over the years, with ventures such as the International Space Station and the variety of nations who have signed the Artemis Accords to enable collaboration to improve access to the Moon for all involved via the Artemis programme[4] and Lunar Gateway[5]. On the more practical side of efforts to improve inclusion, there is the utilisation of the Artemis Accords to land the first woman on the moon as well as the European Space Agency’s recent announcement of the Parastronaut Feasibility Project[6], to assist in investing the development of space actor's capacity to expand the currently restrictive hardware of space crafts to enable physically disabled people to travel to space. This renewed focus on improving inclusion demonstrates the passion and necessity for innovation in the space industry in order to reflect the inclusion and diversity mentioned in space’s law and policy.

So many nights since Yuri Gagarin first entered orbit and in the future contain the possibility for progress, and the fact that the celebrations of that inherent possibility in the commemoration of Yuri’s Night have only grown over time, demonstrates the significance and excitement felt about space exploration. This is seen in the way that regardless of activity; whether it’s the launch of new astronauts, rovers, or satellites, regardless of whether it’s a country’s first or twenty-first such excursion is celebrated with similar vigour and excitement. Many milestones are waiting to be reached in human space activity and Yuri’s Night serves as a reminder of how exciting a prospect these are. The further we travel into space and the more we learn about that environment, one of the most wonderful things about space explorations is that the possibilities only continue to grow. One day, humanity will have potentially travelled across the universe and settled into life in permanent settlements on other celestial bodies in tandem to Earth. Hopefully, those settlers will be able to look back on Earth with the same wonderment for the wealth of human experience it contains, just as we do now with the stars.

The opinions expressed in these blogs posts are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Centre for a Spacefaring Civilization or anyone else.

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[1] Outer Space Treaty [1967], Art. I [2]Andrew Rader, Leaving Earth: Why one way to Mars makes sense (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2014), p.123 [3] Outer Space Treaty [1967], Art. I [4]https://www.nasa.gov/specials/artemis/ [5] https://www.nasa.gov/gateway [6]https://www.esa.int/About_Us/Careers_at_ESA/ESA_Astronaut_Selection/Parastronaut_feasibility_project

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