Yuri Gagarin in a bus on the way to the launch of the first manned space flight, 1961.

Yuri Gagarin on the bus shortly before becoming the first person in outer space. Source: NASA.

Get off that couch and into your spacesuit because it’s time to celebrate the International Day of Human Space Flight.

On 12 April 1961, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first human to journey into space. The flight may have lasted just 108 minutes, but the excitement of that historic achievement lingers today.

In 2011, the UN marked the 50th anniversary of this first manned space flight with the declaration that every year on this day we would celebrate “the beginning of the space era for mankind.”

And celebrate we shall. Every year Yuri’s Night parties are held around the world to commemorate not only the anniversary of the first manned space flight, but also the inaugural launch of NASA’s Space Shuttle on 12 April 1981, and space exploration in general.

The great sci-fi author, Robert Heinlein, once said “reach low orbit and you’re halfway to anywhere in the Solar System”. However, even after 52 years of human space flight, most of us have to settle for Earth-bound activities.

So tonight, even if you can’t find a Yuri’s Night party near you, chase that ‘out of this world’ feeling with some beautiful footage from astronaut Don Petit taken from the ISS:

Still not enough? Why not fill your Twitter feed with astronauts – two of my favourites include Commander Chris Hadfield’s regular posts direct from the ISS, or flight engineer Suni Williams, who ran the Boston marathon in space.

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