Sixty-three years ago today, the world changed forever. For the first time, mankind broke free from its terrestrial bindings and explored the world beyond our own. Millennia of technological progress culminated in one man riding a rocket into space. That man was Yuri Gagarin and tonight is Yuri's Night - an international celebration of human spaceflight.
The world was a lot different sixty-three years ago. Two great nations were locked in what seemed as if it could be an endless war - if it didn't all end in an instantaneous nuclear holocaust. This was a conflict that demanded every edge available, from the political control of a tiny Pacific island to just one extra missile, securely hidden away. In this context, the ability to travel in space was more than our next great adventure; a presence in space seemed necessary to our very survival.
Many in the Western world greeted Gagarin's flight with fear and despair - a far cry from the celebration we now honor it with today. Getting from then to now wasn't easy, but it is indicative of our core humanity. Barely six years after that first flight, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed that space should never become our next battlefield. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 barred any nation from ever placing weapons of mass destruction in orbit. It also declared that all other celestial worlds were to be used only for the peaceful advancement of mankind. In space, even two nation bound in the coldest of wars could work together.
As we celebrate Yuri's Night tonight, the United States and Russia are once again embroiled in an international confrontation. Perhaps, once more, the cooperation of our astronauts and cosmonauts can light the way towards a peaceful solution.