Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, who has been dead for nearly 54 years, found himself a trending topic on Saturday due to an unusual move by the American nonprofit Space Foundation. An April event, which for the past seven years was called “Yuri’s Night,” has had its name changed to “A Celebration of Space: Discover What’s Next.” The website Futurism spotted the now-deleted note, which read that the alteration was made “in light of current world events” and that “the focus of this fundraising event remains the same—to celebrate human achievements in space while inspiring the next generation to reach for the stars.”
While wanting to be sensitive to Russia’s horrific invasion into Ukraine is understandable, the move prompted some skepticism, especially considering that the Space Foundation is an advocacy group with international affiliations and ties to numerous educational programs—so it might be kind of difficult to pretend that Gagarin did not exist. (Business Insider, which also reported on the story, noted that the nonprofit did not immediately respond to their request for comment.)
Yuri’s Night celebrations have been held on or near April 12 all across our pale blue dot since 2001. Did you know that the first Space Shuttle launch in 1981 was on April 12, the same date as Gagarin’s liftoff in 1961? That’s the type of thing you learn if you go to events sponsored by the Space Foundation. At least for now.
Futurism also noted that Gagarin remains popular enough in Ukraine that they issued a 50th anniversary stamp in his honor, one can find street art of him in Kyiv, and an old Soviet-era stadium is still called Gagarin Stadium by locals even after the name changed. Also, lead Soviet rocket designer Sergei Korolev, who shot Gagarin into space, was born in Ukraine and studied at the Odessa Building Trades School.
Perhaps they also serve liberty cabbage and freedom fries at the Space Foundation cafeteria.
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