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Celebrating the International Day of Human Space Flight

Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. Credit: NASA

Today we acknowledge the person who took humanity’s first step into the final frontier: Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person to ever go into space!

Credit: NASA

Yuri was only 27 years old when he accomplished this feat on 12 April 1961, about four years after the successful launch of Sputnik 1. He rocketed up in his spacecraft, Vostik 1, orbited the Earth once and returned after 89 minutes in space (the flight was a total of 108 minutes).

During lift-off, Yuri exclaimed “Poyekhali!” (meaning “Let’s go!”) – a phrase that almost immediately became iconic.

It was 108 minutes that changed the world. His flight (and his famous exclamation) are said to have helped kickstart the Space Age – and Yuri became an instant international celebrity upon landing.

In 2011 the UN declared 12 April as the International Day of Human Space Flight – not only in honour of Yuri’s momentous achievement, but to celebrate “the beginning of the space era for mankind, reaffirming the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples”.


Paul became a naturalised American citizen before his journey into space. Credit: NASA

So who was the first Australian to make it into space?

Surprisingly, the first Australian in space wasn’t actually an astronaut. Paul Scully-Power, the first Australian-born person to make the journey in 1984, is a Sydney-born oceanographer. He was waving the Aussie flag when he went into space, spending 8 days orbiting the Earth in the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Paul was also the first and only astronaut to launch into space with a beard. Even though NASA had asked him to shave it off, Paul’s background as a Navy diver meant he knew how to make a seal on facial hair. (“The secret?” he says. Vaseline.)

Andy Thomas was the second Australian-born person and first Australian-born professional astronaut to make it into space in 1996. Andy was part of four separate missions between 1996 and 2005. During his second mission in 1998, Andy completed 141 days in space and 2,250 orbits of Earth.

Philip K. Chapman, the first Australian-born professional astronaut ever, did not make it into space but did work for NASA as a scientist-astronaut from 1967 – 1972.


For those in Melbourne who want to revel in this exciting occasion, Scienceworks and the Melbourne Planetarium are hosting a very special night of space celebrations tonight! It will feature esteemed guest speakers: astrophysicist Dr. Katie Mack, astronomer Dr. Tanya Hill and VR expert Emre Deniz, who will discuss all things relating to the Universe and futuristic technology.

It’s an adult-only night of fun, so there’s also a Planetarium show, a chance to play with Sphero robots, a DJ spinning space tunes and cosmic cocktails will be available. And, of course, prizes for the best space costumes!

Doors open at 6pm. You can purchase your tickets here.

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