Yuri's Night: spacemen branded me with Yuri Gagarin's head!

If there's a lesson to be learned from Yuri's Night, it's this: space nerds know how to have fun.

More than 90 "global space parties" went down this week in 33 countries on all seven continents, commemorating 45 years since the first human space flight by Yuri Gagarin and the 25th anniversary of the first US Space Shuttle mission with John Young and Robert Crippen.

Here are photos. I went to the party in Houston, near NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC). If the other fêtes were half as fun, the world had a wonderful time.

Houston's edition took place at the scifi-themed Flying Saucer bar, and many NASA JSC folks were in the house — including human space exploration engineer John Connolly.

Among the Russian guests present, RSK Energia's Viktor Sheviakyov, who is NASA's Moscow Support Group Lead for the International Space Station Program (ISSP), and Sergey Sharygin of Russia's federal space agency Roscosmos.

Cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov (in the cellphone snapshot at left) showed up, too. He spent the better part of 2005 in space, on ISS 10.

Organizers handed out stick-on tattoos of Yuri Gagarin's space-helmeted head.  After Mr. Sharipov dunked one in beer and applied it to his own forearm ("They are more permanent that way!" he said), he insisted on tattooing me in a marginally-appropriate location. 

I protested, the cosmonauts persisted. How do you argue with space-1337 dudes who've been floating for half a year?

"I have to hold my hand here for at least thirty seconds so the tattoo works!" explained Mr. Sharipov.

Don't know how they count out there on the space station, but here on Earth, that meant ten solid minutes of his palm on my chest. He was right though, it worked: JPEG link.

Sharipov's colleague Oleg Kotov was in Houston, training for a pending ISS mission that will be his first time in space. I asked him when he was scheduled to depart — "When they think I'm ready," he said, grinning.

He and other cosmonauts typically spend about as much time training in America as they do in Russia. Kotov said he'd been training for six weeks in Houston, six weeks at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, and back again, for most of the past year.

Debbie Dillard from the Mayor's office brought a big plaque proclaiming April 12th "Space Pioneering Day" for Houston, in tribute to the Gagarin and Shuttle anniversaries and those who lost their lives for exploration.

A native Texan at the bar said, "I can remember when this would have been unimaginable — partying with Russian cosmonauts."

"Before 1994, the guys we're celebrating with tonight were our enemies," he continued, between sips of Guinness. "The space program wasn't just about science — it was about peace."

Big thanks to Yuri's Night founder Loretta Hidalgo (who hosted the Washington, DC event), and to the Houston organizing team: Nicholas Skytland (NASA Flight Lead, Neutral Buoyancy Lab), Chris Gerty (NASA space walk engineer — he teaches astronauts how to walk in space!), Kennda Lynch (at right, in the photo at left; Biological Sample Extraction and Delivery System project lead at NASA JSC), Rick "Leeward" Pettys (who shot all the photos in this post which are not phonecam snaps), and Yuri's Night associate director Jennie Eckardt (at left, in the photo at left).

And a special shout-out to all the BoingBoing readers who partied with us — including Kimberly Hoyle and Jeremy Ford of Houston.

Here are a few video clips I shot on my Treo:

– While the band plays a Columbia Shuttle tribute tune, Yuri's Night organizer Jennie Eckardt does a card trick (Link), and again with two Marines (Link).
– Cosmonaut Sharipov with his freshly-applied Yuri tat: Link.

Reader comment: BoingBoing reader Susan Carley Oliver reminds us that April 12 has another significance, too:

 According to Garrison Keillor in a  Writer's Almanac episode, it was on that same day in 1633 that Galileo went on trial for his assertion that the earth moves around the sun. Thankfully, he stuck to his guns and his seminal work on orbital mechanics ultimately served Colonel Yuri Gagarin pretty darn well. I thought the irony was beautiful. [Link to audio.]