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A Mission to Space: Celebrating Yuri Gagarin

Janelle Cox

On April 12, 1961, Colonel Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin (a soviet cosmonaut) was the first human to travel into space. Every April, schools across the globe celebrate this magnificent journey to outer space by learning about the wonders of space, and participating in space-related activities. Here are a few ideas and activities to help you celebrate and honor this wonderful achievement in your classroom.

A Brief Bio of Yuri Gagarin

Born on March 9, 1934 Yuri Gagarin grew up on a farm in Russia. He later became one of the first Soviet Cosmonauts (Russian for Astronaut). On April 12, 1961 Gagarin piloted the first documented mission to space. He orbited the earth for 108 minutes and landed safely in a metal capsule called Vostok 1. Gagarin later died at the tender age of 34 when his plane crashed near Moscow. He left behind a wife and two children.

A Look Back at Humans in Space

The ability to be able to send a human into space is undeniably one of the greatest achievements of mankind. After Gagarin's journey into space, the desire to explore the unknown continued. Once Gagarin's capsule returned safely to earth, it only took one month for U.S. astronaut Alan Shepard to become the first American to reach space and return safely. The success of these flights set the stage for further NASA missions. On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong was the first human to set foot on the moon. Since then, about 450 people have explored space, and the United Nations have declared April 12th the International Day of Human Space Flight.

Space Firsts

Introduce your students to the wonders of space by reading a few books, such as "If You Decide to Go to the Moon" by Faith Mcnulty, "Footprints on the Moon" by Mark Haddon, and "One Giant Leap: The First Moon Landing" by Dana Meachen Rau. Discuss the infamous first walk on the moon, Yuri Gagarin's exploration into space, and Appollo 11. Then talk about space firsts, list the following facts on the front board and have students work in pairs to put the events in chronological order.

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  • Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space
  • Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov takes the first space walk
  • John Glen, first American to orbit earth
  • Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit earth
  • Yuri Gagarin becomes the first human in space
  • Laika is the first animal in space
  • Alan Shepard, first American in space

Once students think they have mastered the task, choose one person from each group to come up and correctly place one space fact on the front board.

Celebrating Humans in Space through Classroom Activities

Here are fifteen activities and resources to help make learning about space an out of this world experience.

  1. Visit Google Earth to explore outer space.
  2. NASA offers a variety of hands-on activities for K-12.
  3. Explore astronomy photographs and discover interactive activities.
  4. Learn how to train like an astronaut at The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
  5. Complete a space shuttle scavenger hunt.
  6. Write a biography about an important pioneer in the space program.
  7. Read about Extraterrestrial Intelligence and have students examine if they exist.
  8. Have students fill out a job application to apply to become an astronaut.
  9. View the first photograph from space.
  10. View an interactive recreation of the first mission to space.
  11. Play astronomy jeopardy.
  12. Write a letter to a space scientist asking them space-related questions.
  13. Re-create the Apollo space shuttle using clay.
  14. Compare Yuri Gagarin's journey into space with Alan Shepards.
  15. Create a timeline of space missions.

Exploring Space Further

Choose a few of these space-related stories to read to your students on International Day of Human Space Flight:

  • What's Out There?: A Book about Space written by Lynn Wilson
  • Mousetronaut written by Mark Kelly
  • DISCOVERY READERS: Space written by Parragon Books
  • Rockets and Spaceships written by Karen Wallace
  • You Are the First Kid on Mars written by Patrick O'Brien

Do you have a great idea or activity about space that you would like to share? Share it with us in the comment section below. We would love to hear your thoughts!