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Hundreds of space parties blast off

Nikolay Korchekov / Reuters

Spectators watch a fireworks display presented to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic spaceflight, in Moscow's Victory Park on April 12.

More than 500 parties are going on to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first human spaceflight and the 30th anniversary of the shuttle program. Among the highlights: the debut of the trippy space documentary “First Orbit,” greetings from the International Space Station and the Mars500 simulation of a Red Planet mission, contests, giveaways — and the Google doodle of the day.

All these events tie into Yuri's Night, a global celebration of spaceflight that originated in Los Angeles 10 years ago. The annual event commemorates Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's blastoff on April 12, 1961, plus Columbia's first-ever space shuttle flight on April 12, 1981. Today's anniversary is bittersweet because this may be the last year of the shuttle fleet's service.

Tonight's L.A. party is a star-studded affair at the Griffith Observatory, during which Yuri's Night co-founders Loretta Hidalgo-Whitesides and George Whitesides (who is now Virgin Galactic's president) will reflect on the past and look forward to the future. They're not the only ones. This year the parties are proceeding on all seven continents.


The logo on the Google homepage was set up to launch Yuri Gagarin's rocket when moused over.

"Everyone from Google to the Los Angeles Times is making note of this historical landmark, and I'm thrilled to see how excited people around the world are to celebrate the spirit of exploration and discovery that Yuri Gagarin embodied," Yuri's Night assistant director Brice Russ said in today's overview. "Whether your nearest Yuri's Night event is down the street or 100 miles away, there's something you can do to participate."

To find out about that something, check the event list at the Yuri's Night website. Some events take place after April 12, so if you have to stay in tonight, there's still a chance that you can party down.

Also, there's still a couple of days before the deadline for the Yuri's Night video and print ad contests, as well as a space-tour sweepstakes. You could win an expenses-paid trip to Russia for a zero-G flight, or even to Baikonur to watch a Soyuz liftoff.

A whole constellation's worth of websites are celebrating spaceflight today, including Scientific American, Wired, Smithsonian Air & Space and of course our partners at Space.com.

Over at Spacevidcast, meanwhile, you could watch a global Yuri's Night webcast and snag one of a million e-book copies of Andrew Kessler's "Martian Summer." Yuri's Night has also teamed up with Posterous to set up a "Yuri's Night Live" sharing site for photos and videos. Don't forget to check in with Yuri's Night via Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube.

And speaking of YouTube, here's a selection of videos to get you in the holiday mood:

"First Orbit": 109-minute documentary on Gagarin's flight.
Greetings from International Space Station crew.
Mars500 crew members recall Gagarin's flight.


More about Yuri Gagarin and space history:

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