Following World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union competed in sports, economics, military power, and eventually a race into space. The Soviets accomplished two milestones, the first artificial satellite (Sputnik, 1957) and the first human spaceflight (Yuri Gagarin, 1961).
Along with millions of people, The Adler celebrates Yuri’s night on April 12, 2013 to remember and celebrate the signature events of space exploration history. On that date in 1961, Gagarin soared into space, also becoming the first human to orbit the earth. His flight proved that it was possible for humans to survive that journey, paving the way for later cosmonauts, astronauts, taikonauts, and other future explorers.
Just three weeks later, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, leading to President Kennedy’s famous speech declaring the national goal to send a man to the Moon, and return him safely. Unlike Gagarin, Shepard enjoyed some control over his flight and spacecraft. His launch and return from space captivated millions of viewers. Shepard later went to the Moon, becoming the oldest astronaut to walk on the lunar surface, where he took advantage of the weak gravity to hit golf balls great distances.
Later joint missions between the United States, the Soviet Union, and other countries enabled today’s international collaborations for exploring the Universe.
Yuri’s night provides an opportunity to reflect on the brave, heroic men and women who have ventured into space, going where no one had gone before, and going where so many of us would still love to go. Around the globe, narratives of the past, educational programs about contemporary science, and artistic impressions about the future inspire new generations about the excitement of discovery, and highlight the technical, cultural, and collaborative commitments needed to continue our efforts to explore the cosmos.
The Adler proudly hosts one of many such world space parties this year. On display, you can see a bust of Yuri Gagarin, a recent gift from the citizens of Moscow to the people of Chicago. It shows Gagarin outfitted for his historic mission, with his helmet illustrated with the Cyrillic letters “CCCP” (“SSSR” representing the name of the Soviet Union in the Russian language.)
You will also see the Gemini XII capsule, home for astronauts James Lovell and Buzz Aldrin in 1966. This mission proved that it was possible to rendezvous and dock in space, and, perhaps most significantly, for Apollo and the Space Shuttle missions, that it was possible to carry out difficult and critical tasks during “spacewalks” outside of the spacecraft.
Don't miss your chance to spend a night at the museum during our Astro-Overnight on Friday, April 12. The Adler will be celebrating Yuri's Night: World Space Party with an astronaut-themed scavenger hunt, creating a Yuri's Hand Puppet cut out, and much more. Learn more about our Astro-Overnights.
Dr. Marvin Bolt is vice president of collections at the Adler Planetarium.