Mai, Laksen and Buzz Aldrin
We had never attended a Yuri's Night party before, but since this was the 50th anniversary celebrations of Yuri Gagarin's flight we just absolutely had to attend. Especially when the party here in Los Angeles was being hosted by none other than Yuri's Night co-founders Loretta Hidalgo-Whitesides and George Whitesides. The event was held at Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles with a party to follow at the Wood and Vine Bar in Hollywood. We barely made the 7:30pm start so we were not able to get in to the main auditorium as it was full. Instead we watched the video feed of the various talks from the Depths of Space Gallery. That in it self was pretty spectacular. The first talk was by Griffith Observatory's Astronomical Observer, Anthony Cook, who gave a detailed account of Yuri Gagarin's life and his historic 108 minute orbit around the planet. Next with video and audio feeds from all over the world, everyone stood up and sang happy birthday to Loretta. Pretty cool! She is an amazing person having degrees from both Cal Tech and Standford. She is a Flight Director at ZERO Gravity Corporation and a team member of Richard Branson's new venture Virgin Oceanic. Next her husband George Whitesides, who by the way is the CEO of Virgin Galactic gave a very interesting talk on how space travel might change in the coming 50 years. He showed some great pictures and video of the test flights of Spaceship 2.
We then drove down to Hollywood to the Wood and Vine Bar. I did not realize that on the corner of Wood and Vine there is a Hollywood star dedicated to the Apollo 11 astronauts. Inside we met a bunch of really fascinating people. Rick Tumlinson was there, Robin from the Mojave Air and Spaceport and I even had a chance to talk with a couple of engineers from SpaceX. But the highlight of the evening was when we met Buzz Aldrin. I was thrilled beyond belief to meet him and talk to him. Buzz is a pretty special guy. He is a West Point graduate who went on to get a PhD from MIT. As a USAF fighter pilot (F-86 and F100) Buzz flew 66 combat missions and he shot down two MIG 15's during the Korean War. Buzz was selected by NASA in 1963 as part of the third group of astronauts. His first mission was with Jim Lovell aboard Gemini 12 which was a 4 day mission with a 5.5hr EVA. But what we all remember about him is his Apollo 11 mission where he served as Lunar Module Pilot on the first lunar landing on July 20th 1969. I have not been able to stop talking about him. After all, how many people do you meet that have walked on the Moon.
It was getting pretty late so we had to get back to Irvine. There was a long line of people waiting to talk to Loretta but standing there all by himself was George Whitesides. I am wearing my jacket with the two Mars Desert Research Station patches and he looks at me and wants to know what the mission patches are about. How cool is that? For a guy who is CEO of company that is building a spaceship... I must say that he is one of the most down to Earth people I have ever met. Just before I left I told him that I definitely will be doing a sub-orbital flight on Spaceship 2. My wife was nodding her approval which was a very good sign. The Sky is definitely NOT the limit!
Yuri's Night was celebrated in 75 countries and 566 registered events took place. Some were pretty far away. There was a party held at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan and even in McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Even the ISS astronauts participated in the celebrations (see below).
Credit: NASA - astronauts wearing their Yuri's Night T-shirts