If our species survives the next century or so without killing each other off or dying from some other cataclysm, I would like to think that April 12 will be the first truly international holiday … a single day that the whole world can take off and celebrate the wondrous positives of exploration!
April 12, 2011 is the 50th anniversary of the day our species took the first big step toward the future. I wonder how many millions of times across every continent from the time of our earliest ancestors that one of our species looked up to the heavens and dreamed of one day going there. For millennia, it remained a dream. On April 12, 1961, it became reality.
Yuri Gagarin, from what little I have read about him, seemed to be a pretty humble guy. He was probably picked to be a finalist for political reasons, and perhaps some of his biography was whitewashed for the same reason … but even if any of that is true, it seemed that the Soviets picked a great man to join the ranks of Columbus and Shackleton and Hillary … those willing to place their very lives on the table to be the first or to see what lies over the horizon. To me, people like this represent our humanity at its core … maybe not always in the most positive ways, but more than anything, exploration is what we do.
Only much later was it determined that Yuri Gagarin did not qualify for the record of his spaceflight, since by rule to qualify for aeronautical and astronautical records the pilot must land with his craft … Yuri actually bailed out of Vostok I, according to plan, a few miles above the Earth, and parachuted safely into a farmer’s field. The Soviets lied about this to make sure he got credit for the flight. Does it matter? I don’t think it does. He showed great bravery in what he did. He remains a hero of Russia …. the reality should be that he is an unquestioned hero for the world.
I worry that in so many ways, this most basic of human traits is being whittled away. I doubt it will ever be extinguished … but it breaks my heart anytime I hear people talk about cutting back on exploration and scientific research. If we aren’t looking to the horizon or looking up, then we are looking down and going nowhere.
My hope is if our world ever gets on the same page, we can all celebrate what is currently celebrated in a very limited way around the world as “Yuri’s Night”. One day to put aside blaming each other and focus on all the good things that we as a species have accomplished. That’s a lot to ask for I know ….
…. but I will continue looking to the horizon!