Yuri’s Night executive director Tim Bailey can’t help but get excited when talking about space. His enthusiasm is infectious and he sees that as the ultimate goal of these parties around the world that celebrate Yuri’s Night. Started in 2001, Yuri’s Night are events that happen around April 12, which is the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human to venture into space in 1961. That day, twenty years later, also was the inaugural launch of the first Space Shuttle. There couldn’t be a better reason to throw a ton of parties to celebrate Space travel.
“We tend to get notice of 200-300 parties happening around the planet,” Tim shares. “This year we have all seven continents covered.” All these parties have a different energy, scope, and size but all have a goal of getting laypeople psyched about Space. One of those parties, BYT and NASM’s 2001: A Space Party at the National Air & Space Museum, is set to be the literal biggest party ever in the history of the event.
But size doesn’t always matter when it comes to Yuri’s Night; it’s the heart that counts. Tim shares a special Yuri’s Night event when, “a guy took a telescope to a local custard stand in the midwest. It was the happening place in their little town during the spring. He had all kinds of people stop by and see the stars and planets with their own eyes for the first time. For that one night, he helped people in his small home town explore the stars.” Whichever way you choose to celebrate Yuri’s Night, Tim Bailey wants people to, “rock the planet!”
BYT: What’s Yuri’s Night all about? What’s the spirit of the night?
Tim Bailey: Yuri’s Night is a global celebration of human spaceflight. It was created in 2001 as a fun way to get people excited about space exploration. There’s a lot of science and data collection and day to day hard work that goes into creating spaceflight programs. It’s easy for space to be extremely boring. There’s very few people that get to go to space or work directly with a telescope. We wanted some time that was available for the entire world to get together as one human species and celebrate and have a giant party all together.
So that’s why we created Yuri’s Night. We wanted to give the world an opportunity to celebrate. It’s not an educational event [necessarily] or trying to broach a specific topic. It’s not a solemn event where we do remembrances, though sometimes those things do happen. It’s intended to be a fun night that combines the worlds of art and science and music in an enjoyable way. To give people a way to experience their connection to space exploration and to each other as co-inhabitants on this spaceship we call Earth.
BYT: How do you feel the night has changed or evolved since 2001?
T.B.: We’ve had such a direct connection to astronauts as they’re aboard the space station with social media. We’ve actually gotten live links to them and they’ve sent us video. They’ll take pictures of the planets. In many ways we’ve gotten much closer to the people actually out there doing the exploration. Those avatars of us out there on the space station can now directly tie back to the whole rest of humanity and immediately send posts that are unfiltered and are not cleansed by some corporate entity. It’s a lot more raw data and raw passion and emotion that’s coming back to us.
That’s shown up in our Yuri’s Night events too. We’ve had everything from doing straw rockets in a daycare all the way to a burlesque show in Arlington. And everything in between. We’ve had thousands of people attend a hip-hop concert out in the Bay Area that was hosted by some folks around the NASA Ames Research Center. We’ve had an event in Africa where they had thousands of people from schools come out and do a whole lecture series about space. We’ve also had things like people who run small observatories in countries in Europe will all have an open house around April 12, just so they can invite their friends and families all to come out at the same time and see where they work.
It’s just been a huge explosion of people getting comfortable sharing their passion for space and for science and for exploration with everybody, not just scientists. With artists, with musicians, with everyone of us to create a level playing field to come in and see something exciting.
BYT: Why do you think getting people excited about space matters now?
T.B.: For a long time space was something other people did. It was exclusively the domain of other people and it got filtered through other people and other agencies. There were large portions that people just couldn’t get access to. The closest you could get to NASA was by writing a letter to them and hoping to get something back in the mail. The people who did that were people super excited, super enthusiasts. Now that we’ve had a lot of people go out into space and come back and tell their stories and share pictures of Earth from the moon, we have a better sense of being a collective planet. We have the tools available to us today to connect with people on the other side of the world in ways we couldn’t have imagined decades ago. We have immediate connections, deep connections, that couldn’t have been possible before.
We’re living in a golden age of space exploration. There are more things going on today than ever before. There are opportunities coming up in the very near future. We’ll have more people going to space in the next two decades than in the past six decades all put together. We’ve on the cusp of this amazing Space revolution. That’s why I think it’s so important to have all of us celebrating space and understanding space as a human endeavor. As a thing that we’re all doing together. We’re all part of this planet reaching out into the stars.
We’re all having the chance to do that directly with things like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and The Sierra Nevada Corporation. And with the more tradition outlets like the Boeings and the Lockheads. There will be more opportunities for people to fly into space than ever before. When we go we can share that [experience] not just with our core group of friends and family but with people all over the planet, instantly. It will make people realize that there are not a lot of physical borders that separate us, but only mental borders. We can use space as a tool to show people we really are all part of the same planet, the same species.
BYT: What are some of the most unique ways over the years that you’ve seen the night be celebrated?
T.B.: We’ve had vodka toasts at the South Pole. We’ve had the Mars Rover on Mars do a little dance for us. We thought it was pretty cool that we got a party on another planet. The International Space Station in 2011 did a Yuri’s night, that we didn’t even know was going to happen, they got some shirts and sent us down a message we weren’t even expecting. This was done on their own time, they took their personal time to record a message for the planet. Those kinds of things are really special.
More and more the parties happen organically. One of the cooler experiences we’ve had is that one year I was looking online and came across a Disney Jr. cartoon show called Miles From Tomorrowland and the episode was called “Yuri’s Night.” Immediately I bought it and downloaded it and sure enough they characters were celebrating Yuri’s Night on the show thousands of years in the future. It was incredible and we had no idea this was happening. We reached out to the creator [Sasha Paladino] and [the staff] was really excited to come to Yuri’s Night at the LA event. We gave them an award for making Yuri’s Night part of popular culture. The next year Disney Jr. helped promote and put out materials encouraging kids to get involved in Yuri’s Night.
These creative events happen because we encourage people to come up with their own Yuri’s Night events organically. We don’t need to be involved. We encourage people to steal our logo though and remix it. We want people to use any of the videos of imagery we have on our site. Give us credit and use it as much as you want to create your own event.
BYT: Do you have any dream guests or performers for Yuri’s Night?
T.B.: For many years we really wanted to get David Bowie to come and perform. That was one of the big dreams that, sadly, we aren’t able to do now.
We’ve had so many cool people already come out. We had [author] Ray Bradbury speak at an event. We’ve had Bill Nye and he’ll be at the L.A. event this year again. We had tons of astronauts come out. We’ve had the astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who was the world record holder for the longest duration astronaut at the time, come over and talk. We’ve had Richard Garriott, who’s dad was an Apollo astronaut and then he made money in video games and became an astronaut himself by paying to go to space. He’s a long time supporter and he’ll come to most big parties and even small parties. He’ll even show up at a bar that’s having a Yuri’s Night in his hometown. We’ve had Anousheh Ansari, who was the female private space astronaut who paid for her own way to space.
There’s also great folks like Cady Coleman, who was at Yuri’s Night L.A. last year, she played a flute solo in Space and did some collaborative art projects while she was up there. We also have this year Nicole Stott, who’s being doing a big art project with kids with cancer where they’ve been painting a mock-up space suit and been taking it around to charity events. It’s amazing that we’ve been able to find these people and give them a platform to express their artistic side and musical side and their science background in a way that doesn’t always happen organically in other places.
BYT: What are you most excited about for this year?
T.B.: This year we’re doing two parties that night that Yuri’s Night, as an organization, is hosting. We typically host one under the Space Shuttle Endeavor out in LA. That’s a giant event. We’ve had a ton of astronauts come out. Now there’s a space shuttle on both coasts, one in LA and one at the Kennedy Space Center [in Florida]. We’ve partnered with the visitors complex [at the KSC] to have a big party there. Now we’ve got this big one in Washington D.C. that BYT and the Smithsonian are putting on. We’re the co-host and are super excited to support it and promote it. We think this one will be the largest event in the world this year. I think it will be larger than our two singular events combined.
Feature image is the Yuri’s Night wallpaper, available at yurisnight.net. Here’s the background of the graphic, from the Yuri’s Night site:
Explanation of elements, clockwise, starting with the Vostok under the Yuri’s Night logo:
- Vostok 3KA – the spacecraft that carried Yuri into the history books on his Vostok 1 flight.
- Orbit – Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth once on his flight.
- Patch – This was the mission patch for Vostok 1.
- 04/12 – Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12th, 1961.
- Clock – Yuri’s flight lasted 108 minutes.
- Dove – “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
- Star Medal – The Hero of the Soviet Union medal was the highest distinction available to a Soviet citizen.