April 12th in Russia marks the date on which we celebrate the Soviet, and later Russian cosmonauts. However, as we will explore below, this date is a little bit special – and has since evolved to be an international day of honouring everyone involved in human spaceflight.
It all started back on that very special Wednesday the 12th of April 1961, the day Yuri Gagarin became the first human in orbit. By doing so, Gagarin paved the way for the (up until now) 536 people who have been to space. In April the following year Gagarin’s back-up crew, and friend, Gherman Titov proposed a special day honouring Gagarin in particular and spaceflight in general. This day became known in the Soviet Union and Russia as “Cosmonautics Day” or «День Космонавтики».
In the Soviet Union and Russia this day meant a day of celebration and remembrance for everyone employed, or connected with the space program. As for others, for example school children, this day would often be a good reason to learn more about space, cosmonauts and science.
As it happened, the 12th of April but this time in 1981 would mark the first flight of the now retired NASA-designed Space Shuttles. This fitting tribute to Yuri Gagarin, on such an important date in the history of spaceflight, would lead to yet another reason to celebrate on this particular date. The celebration of Yuri Gagarin has thus evolved from a mostly Russian matter to a day that today is celebrated across the world, and in space. In 2011 the UN General Assembly established the “International Day of Human Space Flight” or «Международный день полета человека в космос».
One way to celebrate this day is by watching the movie “First Orbit”. This movie, made as a tribute 50 years after Gagarin’s flight was realized in cooperation with astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The movie follows Gagarin’s original flight path in real time with the real audio from the actual flight. Watch the movie below:
Photo: NASA, public domain.