50 years ago today, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became humanity's first ambassador to outer space. It took him 108 minutes to orbit the Earth. The video above uses archival audio and video of Gagarin's flight and combines it with International Space Station footage to provide a modern facsimile of the view Gagarin enjoyed.
Many have argued that the early exploration of space was prompted by base motives: nationalism, military expansionism and mutual mistrust between human tribes. But according to everything I've read about the world's space programs - and I've been doing so since I was a little boy - many, indeed most of the scientists, engineers, administrators and explorers pursued the dream of space with the very best of intentions: to expand the frontiers of human knowledge, to push the limits of our technological and scientific capacity, to learn about the universe we share and, hopefully, to discover our place within it, and perhaps ultimately something about our purpose - if indeed there is one. (There doesn't necessarily have to be, however much we may desire to impose such meaning; in the end, we may find that each person must find such meaning for themselves.)
Gagarin's joy and enthusiasm transcends ideology and nationalism. He was the first of many cosmonauts and astronauts to see the world as it really is: the cradle of life, a place without borders, our only home in the universe, one that we must share and respect if we are to survive as a species. And indeed, in the long run, a home that we must eventually leave behind, if we are vain enough to hope that humanity might outlive our home star, fated to expand to a red giant and snuff out our beautiful world some five billion years from now. If we do, through some great enterprise, escape that fate, I hope that Gagarin is remembered as one of the pioneers who made humanity's long-term existence possible.
Here's to you, Yuri, and to the many thousands of human beings throughout history who have dared to dream of going new places and flying to new heights.