For those of you who don't typically celebrate the 12th of April, or are even, dare I say it, ignorant to the nature of the holiday, let me be the first to congratulate you with a happy 50 year anniversary of "The Day of the First Man in Space!"
Billboards like these have been up for weeks in our neighborhood:
At many of the universities where we work, students are quick to ask us who we think was the first person in space - a Russian or an American. You can probably guess the answer just by the way the question is asked... But just as Neil Armstrong's first step onto lunar territory, as well as his epic words on that occasion have formed a critical part of the American identity, so it is with Yuri Gagarin, the USSR's national hero, the very first man to burst into the unknown showing definitively that the sky was no longer the limit to human progress. April 12th marks a pivotal moment not only in the world-wide space program, but in the Russian identity as well: Yuri Gagarin, first man to go to the cosmos!