Forty-five years ago, on April 12, 1961, the Vostok-1 spacecraft riding atop a Soyuz booster lifted Soviet Air Force Major Yuri Gagarin 200 miles above the Earth and carried him once around the planet. Exactly twenty years later, on April 12, 1981, the first flight of the Space Shuttle (STS-1) launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the Columbia orbiter carrying astronauts John Young (Commander) and Robert Crippen (Pilot).

The advancement of humanity into space, which began with Gagarin’s historic mission and was enriched by the Space Shuttle, stands as one of the most remarkable achievements of the 20th century. It will go down in history as a shining example of the fulfillment of dreams of previous generations.

Our transformation from an earthbound to a spacefaring people has not been an easy one. Driven by a desire to explore the unknown, humans have achieved great accomplishments in cutting-edge science and technology but have also had to suffer tragic losses.

The significance of the human advancement into space has become so compelling that it has ultimately made us forget antagonisms and rivalries which separated peoples and countries for so many years. It has enabled mankind to embark on a path of partnership and cooperation. Started more as symbols of political will, these space efforts are now in the process of being transformed into a broad international strategy for exploration activities in the coming decades.

On the anniversary of both of these significant milestones in the opening of the space frontier, the American Astronautical Society is proud to acknowledge the heroic contributions of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin and Astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen, along with the thousands of men and women who worked to make their missions a reality.