Follow this link to skip to                                      the main content


Text Size

Glenn Mahone/Doc Mirelson
Headquarters, Washington
(Phone: 202/358-1600)

April 12, 2004
RELEASE : 04-123
NASA Acknowledges Historic Space Flight
Today is a great day in the history of spaceflight, marking the 43rd anniversary of the first human spaceflight and the 23rd anniversary of the first flight of the Space Shuttle. Our Russian partners celebrate this day as Cosmonautics Day. In keeping with tradition, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe sent congratulations on behalf of the agency to Russian Federal Space Agency Head Anatolii Perminov.

On April 12, 1961, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel in space, when he was launched on the historic "Vostok 1" flight. Since that day, Russia has celebrated April 12th as Cosmonautics Day.

In his letter of congratulations, Administrator O'Keefe said, "My warmest congratulations to you and the people of the Federal Space Agency (FKA) on Cosmonautics Day 2004! The people of FKA can be justifiably proud of the heritage of success that we all celebrate on Cosmonautics Day.

"As the world celebrates the 43rd anniversary of the historic flight of Yuri Gagarin, we are reminded of the tremendous contributions space exploration has made to humanity. These contributions are many and varied, ranging from exploits in human space flight to robotic discoveries across the solar system.

"Closer to home, exploration has yielded unprecedented insights into the Earth's systems from orbiting satellites to incredible advancements in biological and physical research. It is no coincidence NASA and FKA have substantial ongoing cooperation in each of these areas, as our agencies continue to work closely together to push back the frontiers of space for the benefit of all.

"I am proud that our courageous spacefarers, such as astronaut Michael Foale and cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri, who are on-orbit on the International Space Station, and Gennady Padalka and Mike Fincke who are in the final stages of preparation for the next journey of discovery on the Station, continue to build upon the legacy of Yuri Gagarin and expand our reach into the unknown."

The first flight of the Space Shuttle took place on April 12, 1981. The Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-1) blasted off on its historic mission on the 20th anniversary of Gagarin's groundbreaking flight. The Columbia's 54-hour, 36-orbit mission tested the vehicle, which has since been used as the basis of our international human space flight partnerships.

Scientific cooperation with the Soviet Union dates back to the very beginnings of space flight. The first cooperative human space flight project between the United States and the Soviet Union took place in 1975. The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project was designed to test the compatibility of rendezvous and docking systems for American and Soviet spacecraft and to open the way for future joint manned flights.

Since 1993, the U.S. and Russia have worked together on a number of other space flight projects. The Space Shuttle began visiting the Russian Mir space station in 1994, and in 1995 Norm Thagard became the first U.S. astronaut to take up residency on Mir. Seven U.S. astronauts served with their Russian counterparts aboard the orbiting Mir laboratory from 1995 to 1998. The experience gained from the Mir cooperative effort, as well as lessons learned, paved the way for the International Space Station.

In-orbit construction on the Station began in November 1998, and it has been staffed non-stop with international crews since November 2000. The first Station crew, made up of U.S. commander Bill Shepherd and cosmonauts Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, was launched on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The crew returned to Earth on the Space Shuttle Discovery in March 2001.

Since the Space Shuttle Columbia accident on February 1, 2003, crew exchange and resupply of the Station have depended on Russian Soyuz and Progress vehicles. The cooperation between the U.S. and Russia has grown into a mutually supportive effort. With the combined efforts of the other 14 International Space Station partner nations, the unique orbiting laboratory has become a symbol of peaceful international cooperation.

For information about NASA and agency programs on the Internet, visit:


- end -

text-only version of this release

NASA press releases and other information are available automatically by sending a blank e-mail message to To unsubscribe from this mailing list, send a blank e-mail message to

Back to NASA Newsroom | Back to NASA Homepage