Tuesday, April 12
Early in the morning, fifty years ago today, a Soviet R-7 intercontinental ballistic missile lifted off from its launch stand in Central Asia.
Riding atop that missile was a human being, a Soviet Air Force officer named Yuri A. Gagarin. He shouted, "Poyekhali!" as the control bunker reported that he had lifted off.
The word means "Let's go!"
He was only aloft for 108 minutes, but for that time was the loneliest human being in history, beyond hope of rescue if anything went wrong. He did this voluntarily, and is remembered for his bravery as well as for his groundbreaking flight.
There have been nearly four hundred manned space flights since Gagarin flew, but he was the first. The United States is slowly handing off its manned space program to private industry, leaving us grounded while the Russians - and now the Chinese - maintain a presence up there.
We mustn't allow ourselves to fall stagnant, to narrow our visions and limit our horizons like this.