'Yuri's Night' celebrates anniversary of first man in space

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Yuri Gagarin, 27, (1934-68) wearing cosmonaut helmet, prepares to board Soviet Vostok I spaceship 12 April 1961 at Baikonur rockets launch pad shortly before its take-off to became the first man to travel in space, completing a round-the-Earth circuit.

Fifty years ago this week, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into space. People around the world will mark that anniversary with a celebration called "Yuri's Night."

Former astrobiologist Loretta Whitesides of Pasadena cofounded "Yuri's Night" a decade ago. Whitesides noticed that Gagarin's famous flight and the first space shuttle flight (April 12, 1981) happened on the same day. She figured holding a global celebration each April 12 would be a great way to get people to pay more attention to space.

This year, there will be nearly 470 events in 71 different countries.

“We even have events in Tokyo," said Whitesides. "Our colleagues in Japan have said, you know, even though we’ve had this earthquake, we’re still going to do our part to be a part of the global event, which we were really touched by."

Over the years, people have found unusual ways to mark "Yuri's Night." One couple in South Africa even held a wedding at a planetarium, complete with a cake in the shape of a space shuttle.

For this year's celebration, the Griffith Observatory will hold a "Yuri's Night" event from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. A museum curator will offer a history about Gagarin and his flight.

Whitesides' husband will also speak about the future of space travel. He's chief executive of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson's private space enterprise.

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