I see Earth. It’s so beautiful!

With these words the modern age was ushered in 50 years ago today.

On April 12, 1961, a 27-year-old Russian cosmonaut climbed into a small metal capsule, the Vostok 1, and slipped free of the Earth’s gravitational bonds into what we simply call “space.”

From his precarious cockpit Yuri Gagarin looked down and, like the Star Child in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he saw for the first time ever our Earthly sphere in all its ethereal completeness.

“I see Earth. It’s so beautiful!” he said.

The spacecraft completed one orbit around the globe, lasting about 1 hour and 48 minutes. Cosmonaut Gagarin’s flight astonished the world.

Our sense of who we are and what was possible changed forever.

Six weeks later, on May 25th, 1961, President Kennedy threw down the gauntlet in a special address to Congress.

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

We did. And what have we since learned? Be astonished again.

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