International Day of Human Space Flight on April 12 was proclaimed by the United Nations in 2011 to commemorate mankind’s first foray into space. It’s observed on the anniversary of the first human space flight, made by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961. The holiday celebrates the beginning of the human exploration of space. In Russia and former Soviet states, it has been celebrated, since 1963, as Cosmonautics Day.
History of International Day of Human Space Flight
On April 7, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed April 12 to be the International Day of Human Space Flight, as a way to celebrate the moment humanity first began traversing outer space.
On this day, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin commenced the first-ever manned spaceflight in human history on April 12, 1961. Launching from Soviet Kazakhstan, the Vostok 1 mission, which Gagarin led, completed one orbit around Earth in 108 minutes. Gagarin’s feat marked the beginning of the space era for humanity and paved the way for future explorations in science, technology, and knowledge of the universe.
Gagarin’s flight was preceded by the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite in 1957, which was the first object launched into space by mankind. The success of Sputnik made us aware that stepping into space was not impossible. Gagarin’s orbit was then succeeded by American John Glenn’s spacewalk in 1962, and Valentina Tereshkova’s walk in 1963 as the first woman in space.
The successes of the Soviet and American space programs led to a full-fledged Space Race in the 1960s, which saw the two countries compete against each other in the quest to explore the final frontier. Some of their achievements include the launch of a permanent space station in 1998, the creation of the reusable space shuttle in 1976, and, of course, the first manned mission to the Moon in 1969. Since then, many humans have made their mark in space, with 574 people from 41 countries as of 2021 having stepped into Earth’s orbit and beyond. Gagarin made the world realize that traversing outer space was possible, and the world is better for it today. Another international observance commemorating Gagarin’s spacewalk, Yuri’s Night, has also been celebrated since 2001.
International Day of Human Space Flight timeline
Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human to orbit Earth.
Not wanting to be outdone by the Soviets, the Americans send John Glenn into orbit.
Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman to travel to space.
The American Apollo 11 mission successfully lands on the Moon.
The United States and the Soviet Union achieves the first international human space mission.
International Day of Human Space Flight FAQs
Who invented spaceflight?
While Gagarin was the first human in space, research on interstellar travel had already been initiated since the early 20th century. Among the scientists who pioneered spaceflight research were Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Robert H. Goddard. Tsiolkovsky first proposed the possibilities of spaceflight in 1903, while Goddard provided the engineering research on rockets in 1919.
How many countries are in space?
The Soviet Union and the United States may be the countries with the most recognizable space programs, but they are not the only ones. Today, many countries have their own space programs — manned and unmanned — including China, France, Japan, India, South Korea, Iran, Canada, and Germany.
Which country went to Mars first?
The United States. NASA’s Mariner 4 craft was the first man-made craft to fly over the planet in 1964. NASA would later land the first unmanned crafts on the planet in 1970, with the Viking 1.
How to Observe International Day of Human Space Flight
Tell the story
Did you witness the Space Race? Share your memories with your friends and family on this day.
Watch films about the first spaceflight
Many documentaries about the first spaceflight exist. Watch some of them today.
Raise awareness on social media
Share this important holiday with your network. Let's all be proud of our progress.
5 Interesting Facts About Space
The first space station
The Soviet Union created the first space station, Salyut 1, in 1971, and also launched the first permanently manned station in 1986 with Mir.
The first animal to enter space
The first vertebrate beings to fly into space were two Soviet dogs that were launched 70 miles into the air (and landed safely) in 1951.
Many holes in one
Alan Shepard was the first (and so far only) person to have ever played golf on the Moon, doing so during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971.
The first to enter Venus’ atmosphere
The Soviets were the first to successfully enter the atmosphere on Venus, with the Venera 4 probe in 1967.
The Army’s Mark on Space
The first American satellite, the Explorer 1, was built by the U.S. Army in 1958, as NASA would not be established until later that year.
Why International Day of Human Space Flight is Important
Gagarin opened the door for mankind
Without Yuri Gagarin’s walk, humanity would still be seeing space as unreachable. Today, we honor the man who opened the door of space exploration.
The space race answered our otherworldly curiosities
Humanity has always found space fascinating, since our ancient forefathers began gazing at the sky, wondering what is out there. Since the Space Race in the 1960s, we have discovered and learned so much about our universe.
Space exploration helps maintain peace on Earth
The fact that the United Nations initiated the International Day of Human Space Flight as a formal celebration shows how significant space exploration is to the world. For the U.N., space exploration helps foster collaboration between nations and helps maintain the balance of peace on Earth. And today, we celebrate that peace.
International Day of Human Space Flight dates