Russia is well represented in space history as the first nation to successfully put the first object into orbit and the first person into space. Despite their well-known achievements, there is a significant amount of fascinating but often unknown Russian space history.

In honour of Yuri’s Night, an international celebration of Yuri Gagarin, we are hosting Yuri’s Night at Stardome on April 12. You’ll learn more about the first man in space and the history of space exploration in our 360-degree planetarium show.

Until then, here are five facts you may not have known about Russia and their space agency, Roscosmos

Yuri's Night - five Russian Space Facts

Russia launched the first woman to space

Soviet Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963 – twenty years before the Sally Ride became the first American woman to leave Earth. Tereshkova orbited Earth 48 times over 70 hours in the Vostok 6 capsule before landing near what is currently the Kazakhstan-Mongolia-China border.

Tereshkova married fellow Soviet cosmonaut, Andrian Nikolayev and they became parents to a daughter, Elena. Elena was widely studied as the first child born to parents who had been to space. Following her retirement from her career as a cosmonaut, Tereshkova continued on to have a career in politics. She has been recognised for her many achievements, receiving multiple awards including the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ and being awarded the United Nations Medal of Peace.


Russia recently lost a $45 million satellite after giving it the wrong coordinates

In November 2017, a highly anticipated launch of the Meteor-M weather satellite went awry when its first scheduled communication session failed to make contact. Although first assumed to be because of the booster failing in its final stages, it was later announced that the problem was down to human error. Due to poor communication, the satellite was programmed as though it would be launched from Kazakhstan when in reality the launch took place in Russia’s far East.

This may not be the last we hear from the Meteor- M satellite. Satellites have previously been re-discovered years after they have seemingly disappeared. A recent example of this was when an amatuer astronomer detected a signal from the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) satellite, which was lost at the end of 2005. This was confirmed by NASA in January 2018 and the space agency has worked to discover more about the state of the satellite since them.


NASA and Roscosmos have often worked together despite the competition between the two nations

Beginning with The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, Russia and the United States have joined forces in numerous space missions. They remain the partners of the International Space Station, which has further connected the world, having currently been visited by astronauts from 18 countries.

Back in 2017, NASA and Roscosmos signed a joint statement indicating that they are planning to work together in future missions. These missions will likely reach deep space, and the strategic partnership allows both nations to extend their capabilities over the coming years.


All Astronauts who visit the International Space station must learn Russian

Aboard the Russian Soyuz vehicle, the commands are all in Russian. As it is the only launch vehicle currently in operation to take astronauts to the International Space Station, all passengers must learn Russian if they do not know it already. This is also a precautionary measure – if an emergency were to take place on the Space Station, the ability to communicate proficiently with all crew and ground members is vital.

The task of learning another language has been described as the ‘single most difficult aspect of [his] training,’ by commander Tim Peake. When the Russian and American crew first worked together in orbit for the Apollo Soyuz test project, they struggled with communication until they agreed to each speak the other’s language. The Russians spoke in English to the Americans, and the Americans spoke in Russian to the cosmonauts. According to Apollo commander Thomas Stafford “…it worked slick as a whistle. So [they] had a couple more drinks, and it even started working better.”


Gagarin died in 1968, aged 34 when the MiG-15 training jet he was piloting crashed

Despite only making one trip to space in his lifetime, Gagarin continued working as a pilot. The former cosmonaut passed away in a jet crash in 1968, but details were withheld, shrouded his death in mystery. Many people challenged the official explanation, and conspiracies were formed such as that Gagarin was intoxicated, or that he and his instructor were taking ‘potshots at wild deer from their plane’.

Former Russian/ Soviet cosmonaut, Alexei Leonov worked for years to discover the actual cause of Gagarin’s death. Upon opening access to the files, Leonov found inaccuracies; even his own report had been somewhat rewritten. It has been found, that the most likely cause may be that a larger jet flying too close to the small craft. Further declassified documents in 2003 recorded inaccuracies in the weather data sent to the pilots – a potential contributing factor to the crash.


To learn more about the history of space exploration visit Stardome for Yuri’s Night on 12 April.

You’ll learn more about Yuri, the Apollo landing, the Mars Curiosity rover, the epic Pluto flyby by New Horizons, and we’ll show you how to find south for your own night sky exploration. The evening includes a glass of wine (R18 only, ID may be required) and special Russian treats.

Give us a call on (09) 624 1246 or book tickets online!