On this day (12 April) in 1961, at 0607 GMT, Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin lifted off from the Tyuratam launch complex in the Soviet Union and became the first human to enter Earth orbit. I’ve been commemorating this event for . . . well, I don’t know how many years exactly but for a long time.
Gagarin made his flight in the service of the “Evil Empire” and was certainly motivated, in part, by patriotism for that totalitarian state. In my eyes this doesn’t taint his achievement – he was, after all, first a man – a man who put his life on the line to show that human beings could travel in space.
Although space travel today remains a ridiculously expensive proposition chiefly because the U.S. emulated the Soviet model, we’re taking the first steps to bring the power of the free market to the enterprise. That’s why I’m guardedly optimistic that the human race will master travel through space, just as it mastered travel on the sea. If we don’t, terrestrial – not just human – life is doomed, and sooner rather than later. Aside from such (potential) near-term sources of mass extinction as asteroids and comets, there is the threat of cosmic ray bursts that can send planet-sterilizing death over distances measured in kiloparsecs. In fact, cosmic ray bursts are so common throughout the universe that they may be the best explanation for why there is no evidence of technologically advanced life besides us. Complex life (almost?) never lasts long enough to develop space travel before it is seared to extinction by lethal radiation. The animal rights loonies and eco-fascists, if they really love non-human life so much, should consider the fact that human beings really are the “paragon of animals” – only we humans can safeguard terrestrial life by spreading it throughout the solar system and beyond.
So, I celebrate Yuri Gagarin for being first – for having the “right stuff” - 44 years ago.
Addendum: It turns out that I’m not the only one who celebrates what I call “Yuri Gagarin Day”. People all around the world are holding Yuri Gagarin parties. So, to all of you celebrants out there, Happy Gagarin Day!