On April 12, 1961 cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go into space. On the same date in 1981, the first reusable spacecraft, Space Shuttle Columbia, was launched. Now, each year on the night of April 12, people around the planet commemorate these historic journeys during Yuri's Night celebrations as part of a "world space party." Yuri's Night events occur on all seven continents and (naturally) aboard the International Space Station.
What does a Yuri's Night celebration involve?
Yuri's Night gatherings have a range of themes. According to the official Yuri's Night website, which is run by several dedicated volunteers, "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." To illustrate just how far-reaching and how diverse these celebrations are, here's a video from 2010 that shows scientists at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica toasting "to Yuri" and "to space flight."
There are already more than 50 scheduled events registered with the website for North America. However, if there is not a Yuri's Night event planned near where you live, or if you'd like to host a certain type of party of your own, you can register your own event. The site will provide you with materials to promote your celebration, including the official Yuri's Night logo, video resources, ideas for activities and help with social media promotion.
Yuri's Night is not just for amateur astronomers and space nerds. Celebrities such as Levar Burton and Lance Bass and luminaries in the space science community like Bill Nye and Ray Bradbury have endorsed the celebration. They've encouraged people to check out the event and to learn about and appreciate the endeavors of early space pioneers.
A brief history of Yuri's Night
A woman dressed as a Jedi from Star Wars gives a lecture at a Yuri's Night event held at the Goddard Space Flight Center. (Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/flickr)
Yuri's Night was created by Trish Garnder, Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides and George Thomas Whitesides. The event was announced in 2000 at the Graz Conference for the United Nations' Space Generation Advisory Council.
The first Yuri's Night party took place in 2001 on the 40th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight into space. It was held at a nightclub in Los Angeles and provided quite the kick-off. The Yuri's Night team described the soiree, "Of course, the flagship event was Yuri's Night Los Angeles, which went down at the Palace (now Avalon) in downtown Hollywood. With the Lunar Rover parked out front, over 1,500 partygoers showed up over the course of the evening, not including the silver-booted go-go dancers in the middle of the dance floor and the awesome technical crew who set up the continuous space-based footage displayed on the walls."
Since the inaugural celebration, over nearly 3,000 parties have been organized in the name of space education and outreach.
If you're a space enthusiast looking for a reason to celebrate, attend a Yuri's Night party near you or host your own event. Be sure to toast "To Yuri!"