The world is paying tribute to the 50th anniversary of Yuro Gagarins epic voyage into the unknown. His flight on the 12 April, 1961 began with his shout “Poyekhali! (Let’s go!)”. This video beautifully combines archive footage, radio communcations and video shot from the International Space Station to relive the view he would have had, in real time, of his pioneering flight.

What struck me is what an exciting time the 50’s and 60’s were. We had leapt from the first flights in 1903 to landing on the moon 65 years later. By comparison what have we acheived since? I know that many of these developments were driven by wars both hot and cold, and manned exploration is expotentially more difficult as we reach further into the universe. But take a look at a few of these significant firsts…

1903
First successful heavier-than-air machine flight.

1909
First cross-Channel flight

1919
First transatlantic flight.

1947
First piloted supersonic flight in an airplane

1957 A busy year!
First round-the-world nonstop jet plane flight.

Soviet Union launches Sputnik I.

Sputnik II launches, with ill-fated Laika the dog on board.

1961
Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to enter space and return safely.

1969
Astronauts Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Neil Armstrong become the first men to walk on the moon.

1972 Launch of unmanned Pioneer 10: Earth’s first space probe to an outer planet, Pioneer 10 sent its last communication back to Earth on January 22, 2003, while 7.6 billion miles from home

1973 United States launches the first experimental space station, the Skylab.

1976
First regularly scheduled commercial supersonic transport (SST) flights begin.

1981
Aboard the space shuttle Columbia, Robert L. Crippen and John W. Young make the first mission in NASA’s space shuttle program.

1986
Mir space station launches.

2000
The crew of Expedition One, astronaut Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, dock at the International Space Station. They are the first people to take up residence at the ISS, staying there for several months.

2004
Spirit and Opportunity arrive on the Martian surface. They continue to explore the Red Planet today.

SpaceShipOne becomes the first privately built craft to reach outer space.

What is striking is the slow down in exploration. What achievements have been made in the last 5 years for instance? We are still riveted by the Mars explorers which are still producing new data despite being designed for a 3 month mission. NASA is retiring the shuttles and the workhorses of Russia and the ESA seem dedicated to servicing the ISS, which although a magnificent acheiviement is still in a low earth orbit that we bettered decades ago.

I want to be excited about exploration. But as a species we seem to only have resources for parochial political gambits and as a population we seem more interested in whatever phone vote is on Saturday night.

Perhaps Yuri was better off not seeing what we became. His thirst for knowledge and experience was summed up in a note he left to be sent in the event of his death (which was estimated as 50/50 at best!)

“I trust the hardware completely. It will not fail. But it can happen that a man trips at ground level and breaks his neck. Some accident may happen. If it does, do not waste yourself with grief. Life is life, and nobody is safe from being run over by a car.”

Bravo Zulu Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, 9 March 1934 – 27 March 1968

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