Yuri’s Night comes to Kennedy Space Center
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Yuri’s Night, the world’s largest space party, made its first appearance at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in an event held on April 13, 2018, and brought together over 750 space professionals and fans for the space-themed merriment beneath Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Partying under two Space Shuttles
Yuri’s Night (YN) is an annual global celebration of humanity’s past, present, and future in space. It was started by Loretta and George Whitesides, and Trish Garner in 2001 to celebrate human spaceflight. This includes Yuri Gagarin becoming the first person in space in 1961 and the first Space Shuttle launch, (STS-1) in 1981—both occurring on the same day 20 years apart, April 12. The first Yuri’s Night event occurred April 12, 2001, in Los Angeles, California.
Originally billed as a “St. Patrick’s Day or Cinco de Mayo for space people,” the event has since garnered fans around the world, within and beyond the space community. Parties have occurred under a Space Shuttle at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. as well as the California Science Center and under a Saturn V test article at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It has also had participating parties as far apart as Australia, Russia, and even Antarctica. This year was the first time a party occurred at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.
The Florida event was big enough to bring founder Loretta Whitesides out from the West Coast to KSC to participate, dressed as Princess Shuri from the recent Black Panther movie.
“This is a banner year for us,” Whitesides told Spaceflight Insider. “We have people partying under two Space Shuttles: 2,000 in D.C. and 750 here.”
The ages of the attendees ranged from 20-somethings to individuals with more gray in their hair. The lights were bright and the music was loud, thumping, and played for dancing.
Guest speakers and technical difficulties
Attendees at the KSC event were greeted by a large cadre of cosplayers from the local branch of the “501st Legion,” a group of individuals who raise money for charities and appear at events dressed in authentic-looking Star Wars Stormtrooper uniforms and other character costumes.
Star Trek was another popular science fiction universe represented at YN Space Coast, with attendees wearing uniforms from their favorite eras of that franchise. It’s an interesting reminder that while YN is centered on real-world space accomplishments, people can acquire their interest in space exploration in many ways.
Unfortunately, the poor vision offered by the distinctive Stormtrooper helmet caused one of those uniformed individuals to bump into and knock over the projector used for guest speaker presentations. However, that didn’t stop former astronaut and KSC Center Director Bob Cabana, former astronaut Nicole Stott, and Vostok Beer sponsor representative Jaron Mitchell from delivering their presentations with gusto.
While waiting for the projector to get repaired, Cabana, wearing his blue astronaut jumpsuit, took questions from the audience. He spoke about his path from test pilot at Patuxent River and Edwards Air Force Base to NASA astronaut. More importantly, he talked about the current state of human spaceflight at the center he leads. He noted that whereas before only three nations had ever sent humans into space, now three different companies were building human-rated spacecraft at KSC: SpaceX, Boeing, and Blue Origin.
In response to a Spaceflight Insider question about the status of Launch Complex 39C, Cabana stated that the small-launcher site within the LC-39B perimeter had been built for a specific test project and that it might be better placed elsewhere in the future. He also stated that it would likely be “the late 2030s” before NASA sent humans to Mars.
Astronaut Nicole Stott’s key message centered on the feelings and attitudes she took away from her 100 days on the International Space Station (ISS).
“We all live on a planet, and we are all Earthlings,” Stott said.
Stott also said building and operating ISS is one of the most complex things humanity has ever done—on or off Earth.
Jaron Mitchell from Vostok Space Beer featured the most outlandish of the guest speakers’ outfits, sporting a replica of his brand’s beer can. Vostok advertises itself as a space beer because it has been taste-tested in zero gravity by, among other people, Todd Romberger, vice president of commercial space for Space Florida.
Mitchell later told Spaceflight Insider that Vostok qualifies as a “space beer” because it is safe to drink in space; it has an intense enough flavor to be consumed in zero gravity, which can affect the sinuses and sense of taste; it produces no “wet burps;” and it can be drunk out of a conventional bottle. “Conventional,” however, might be a bit misleading, as Mitchell was promoting an Indiegogo campaign to fund mass production of an “authentic” beer-drinking vessel that functions in zero g. Typically, astronauts consume liquids through squeeze bulbs.
Who attends Yuri’s Night? Where does it go from here?
Spaceflight Insider spoke with a few of the organizers or YN Ambassadors (recognizable by their event-provided red sashes) to find out who participates in these events and why.
One of the first attendees Spaceflight Insider spoke with was Sian Proctor, who in addition to the red sash wore an embroidered black chef’s uniform proclaiming, “Doctor Proctor, Space Chef, Meals for Mars.” Proctor is a graduate of Arizona State University as well as a participant in the first HI-SEAS Mars simulation in Hawaii, where she was in charge of education and outreach.
Because one of the primary goals of the first HI-SEAS crew was to test eating arrangements for long-term space missions, Proctor hosted a weekly YouTube show with different crewmembers making meal items that could be made on an actual Mars Mission. She plans on putting out a cookbook of the recipes tried during her crew’s mission later this year. Despite an extensive association with space, this was her first time at YN.
“I think this is amazing,” Proctor said. “We’re dancing under the Shuttle. When I was growing up, the Shuttle was space, so it’s fantastic to see what’s happening next.”
Tim Bailey, a space technology and education consultant, is also executive director and a member of YN’s national board of directors. His education includes a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Bailey appeared at YN in a fiber-optic-trimmed black jumpsuit that he wears when he leads zero-gravity flights for Zero G Corporation. He has been a YN participant and organizer since 2005.
“What’s amazing is how it’s grown,” Bailey said. “TV shows have mentioned having Yuri’s Night events without being registered on our site. It has become embedded in the culture.”
Antonio Paris, a professor of planetary science at St. Petersburg College, was also dressed to be among space people. He wore a suit featuring planets and galaxies, which he had custom-made from a tailor in London.
Originally an astrophysicist focused on “deep space objects” (black holes, pulsars, etc.), Paris now teaches students about the planet Mars. He takes his students on field trips to Arizona to look for meteorites in the Mars-like terrain of the desert.
“[Mars is] the next reasonable destination,” Paris told SpaceFlight Insider. “And I see it eventually as a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system.”
Beverly Rother, a “crew member” at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, has been a regular attendee at YN events on the Space Coast.
“Space is the place!” Rother said. “I was born before the space race started and saw it evolve. Now I’m lucky enough to work here and see the new things that are coming, and it’s priceless.”
Ryan Kobrick, president and chairman of the YN national organization, is also deeply involved in the space community. His background includes a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering sciences from University of Colorado at Boulder and master’s degrees from Penn State and the International Space University (ISU). He currently serves as an associate professor of space operations at the aforementioned ERAU in Florida.
Kobrick became involved with YN almost from the beginning, in 2003. He became executive director in 2010 and now serves as chairman and president. He’s been helping organize YN events on the Space Coast since 2013, originally in the Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach area, but now in Port Orange, where he moved to be closer to his job.
Kobrick spoke with Spaceflight Insider after the event.
SFI: What does YN mean to you?
Kobrick: “It’s going back to the original notion of how important spaceflight is for our future. I’m part of a bigger picture of helping inspire that. I was pretty excited about getting my students involved. My students got it when they did their own local event. They REALLY got it when they were part of a big event like this. That’s exactly the demographic we want. We don’t just want them interested, they need to be engaged. These things like what SpaceX is doing are not quick, they take five or ten years.”
SFI: How has YN changed over the years?
Kobrick: “It’s hard to answer because every event has been completely different. With the events around the world, our connectivity with them is improving every year. Social media provides a better window into other events happening. That connectivity is really important. We have a few things we run like Yuri’s Night Live, which we just moderate. There are more unexpected events happening that we didn’t know about. The long-term goal is that it would just be everywhere. The best problem for people to have would be that there are too many events to choose from.”
Loretta Whitesides also spoke with SFI after YN Space Coast. She was on her way to host yet another event in Seattle on April 14.
SFI: How has the event changed since you first started it?
Whitesides: “I love how it’s grown to the point that the biggest parties have not been thrown by me! The huge ones at Ames with Pharrell and an air show, for instance. And the one this year at Smithsonian, which is also an epic addition this year! I also like that the U.N. made 4/12 an official human space flight holiday in 2011.
“Now we have many more free online tools to plan. Remember, we launched before Gmail, Skype, iPhones, Facebook, and Twitter. We also have more retired spacecraft to party under. And we have a lot more pull with and connections to space leaders.”
SFI: What do you hope happens with it in the future?
Whitesides: “I hope Yuri’s Night is a holiday that reminds the world that there is more that unites us than divides us. We have always said we want Yuri’s Night to be celebrated 10,000 years in the future.”
A video highlight of the Yuri’s Night LA celebration on April 7, 2018, at the California Science Center where Space Shuttle Endeavour resides. Video courtesy of Yuri’s Night
Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.