“Circling the Earth in my orbital spaceship, I marveled at the beauty of our planet. People of the world, let us safeguard and enhance this beauty – not destroy it!” –Yuri Gagarin, first human in space.
Every April, dozens of cities across the globe participate in the world space party known as Yuri’s Night, a tribute to Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, who became the first human to journey into space on April 12, 1961.
On Saturday, April 8th, the California Science Center, in Los Angeles, hosted its Yuri’s Night celebration at its Samuel Oschin Space Shuttle Endeavour Pavilion, home of the NASA space shuttle, Endeavour. This year’s party did not disappoint. As a Los Angeles local, I will admit to having visited Endeavour half a dozen times at least, but this was a different experience entirely, made clear by the placement of a Back to the Future replica DeLorean at the venue’s front door entrance.
Party under the Space Shuttle, Endeavour, at Yuri’s Night 2017. Credit: Pauline Acalin
The pre-party began with Apollo 9 astronaut, Rusty Schweickart, and private space explorer/space ambassador Anousheh Ansari speaking about their first-hand experiences with space travel. Then the lights turned down, and DJ Dynamix spun space beats until midnight while all manner of costumed space folk danced and mingled under the shuttle while sipping drinks.
3D LED Stellarium star map of 40 stars within 25 light years of Earth that was built for Yuri’s Night L.A. 2017 with funds raised from the 2016 event. It has buttons you can press to make one of 8 featured stars blink. Credit: Colin Worf
Fans were delighted as they periodically bumped into their long-time idols dispersed among the crowd. Special guests included Walter Koenig, known for his role as Pavel Chekov in the original Star Trek series, Chase Masterson who played Leeta on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Robert Picardo who played “The Doctor” on Star Trek: Voyager. Picardo is also on the Board of Directors for The Planetary Society and serves as an advocate for space exploration.
A personal highlight was meeting Everyday Astronaut, Tim Dodd, a rather imaginative science communicator whose mission is bringing space down to Earth for everyday people.
A couple of volunteers guard the entrance to the VIP lounge, lightsaber style. Credit: Pauline Acalin
Book signings took place in an adjacent room with authors Peter Diamandis (founder, XPRIZE Foundation) and Julian Guthrie (author of How to Make a Spaceship) signing copies of their book, “How To Make A Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight,” as well as Ariel Waldman with her book “What’s It Like In Space?: Stories From Astronauts Who’ve Been There.”
Origami expert, Robert Salazar, unfurled the star shield mock-up he is working to create with JPL. When folded, it fits in the palm of your hand. Credit: Pauline Acalin
Other interactives included a full Virtual Reality headset immersion from Bella Gaia, providing a mesmerizing glimpse of what if feels like to be orbiting above our spaceship Earth, and “Meet the Stellar Neighbors,” a scale model 3D Star Map of the stars within 25 light years of Earth.
Come next April, make it a point to attend your local Yuri’s Night celebration and immerse yourself in all things space.
SpaceX’s, Kate Tice, speaking with Apollo astronaut, Rusty Schweickart, and a few of many Star Wars fans, one of whom is posing with Star Trek’s, Walter Koenig. Credit: Pauline Acalin