Did you know that this Thursday, April 12, people will be celebrating all around the world? In fact, people celebrate every April 12. It’s Yuri’s Night, a celebration of human achievements in space.
Why April 12th? Two very special events happened on this date.
April 12th, 1961: Yuri Gagarin became the very first human to go into space
Did you know? During the Cold War in the 1950's and 60's, the Soviet Union (a former country that included Russia) and the United States competed to be the first country to enter space. The Soviet Union won.
Above: Yuri Gagarin on his way to the launch pad.
Yuri Gagarin was a Russian cosmonaut. Like many trained as cosmonauts at the time, he was first a Russian Air Force pilot, then joined the space program. His historic flight was on a spacecraft named Vostok 1.
Did you know? Astronauts and cosmonauts both refer to people trained in space travel. People trained by the Canadian Space Agency, NASA, the European Space Agency, or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency are called astronauts. People trained by the Russian space program are called cosmonauts.
Gagarin took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, located in what is now Kazakhstan. Vostok 1 circled around the Earth once at a height of 327 kilometres. The flight took 108 minutes. He had ten days’ worth of provisions with him in case of emergency. But there was no emergency, and in spite of a difficult landing, Gagarin was back on Earth just under two hours after takeoff.
Did you know? When humans first landed on the moon on July 20 1969, they left commemorative medallions for five cosmonauts and astronauts who had passed away. One of the medallions was for Yuri Gagarin, who died in 1968.
April 12th, 1981: The first space shuttle was launched
On the same date in 1981, two American astronauts, John Young and Robert Crippen, launched into space on a spacecraft called Columbia. This was the first space shuttle in space. Space shuttles were different than previous spacecraft in many ways.
First of all, they were reusable. In other words, they could fly into space and back multiple times. They could also carry more astronauts - up to 7 at a time. Finally, they could carry large, heavy objects into orbit and back.
Did you know? The last space shuttle mission was in 2011.
Above: A space shuttle in 2009.
Humans in space in 2018
Since Gagarin’s flight, over 500 people have been in space. Today, many astronauts work together on the International Space Station (ISS). The ISS is a place where international teams of scientists can conduct experiments on human health and engineering. Space shuttles transported parts for the ISS, while astronauts built the station in space.
Often, scientists can use conditions in space to understand conditions on Earth. For example, in space, astronauts are sedentary for long periods of time. Studying their own conditions can help doctors on Earth look out for possible health issues in their own sedentary patients, such as elderly or bedridden patients.
Some current Canadian studies will provide information for these issues. MARROW looks at how being physically inactive affects bone marrow. That’s important, because bone marrow creates red blood cells. A lack of red blood cells can cause anemia and other health issues. Another Canadian series of studies examine the hearts and blood vessels of astronauts on the ISS to help doctors understand how the cardiovascular system ages on Earth.
Did you know? While in space, an astronaut’s cardiovascular system can age 10-20 years! Scientists believe this could be due to lack of exercise while in the ISS.
Space studies in your classroom
Want to learn more about how life in space can teach you about life on Earth?
Environmental Conditions for Life is a Let’s Talk Science Action Project. It allows you and your students to look at the optimal conditions for life on the ISS and for on Earth. We have partnered with the Canadian Space Agency and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, who has been assigned to a six-month mission aboard the International Space Station. Click here to learn more about the Environmental Conditions for Life project.
Tomatosphere is a Let’s Talk Science Action Project that looks at how seeds grown in space germinate differently than those grown on Earth. Click here to learn more about Tomatosphere.
Let’s talk about it
- What human space achievements have happened in your lifetime? Have any made an impression on you? If so, which ones?
- What other experiments are being conducted on the ISS?
- Is there a human (or plant or animal) condition that you would like to see studied on the ISS? If so, how would you design the experiment?
- Before the first human traveled to space, a number of dogs, monkeys, mice and other animals were launched into space. Do you think it is ethical for researchers to send animals into space? Why or why not?
- Space exploration is costly. Some people think it's an acceptable use of taxpayer money. Others don't. What do you think? (Before you answer, see if you can find information on how much different governments spend annually on space exploration.)
The Flight of Vostok 1 (Accessed 2018)
European Space Agency
What are the differences between an astronaut and a cosmonaut? (2017)
Robert Frost, Forbes
Yuri Gagarin: First Man in Space (2012)
Nola Taylor Redd, Space.com
Space Station Assembly (2010)
The flight of Vostok 1 (Accessed 2018)
European Space Agency
An Historic Day in Human Spaceflight (2011)
Space Shuttle: The First Reusable Spacecraft (2017)
Tim Sharp, Space.com
MARROW: Keeping bones healthy in space (2018)
Canadian Space Agency
The Vascular Series: Studying heart health in space (2017)
Canadian Space Agency