Fifty years ago, April 12, 1961, was one of the most extraordinary moments in human history: a spacecraft carried a passenger, Yuri Gagarin, into space, and back again safely. It’s probably impossible to overstate the magnitude of that achievement, or the repercussions it would have.
To give some context, here are three TEDTalks on the space race and spaceflight, past and future.
The launch of Gagarin, aboard Vostok 1, was very much a part of the arms race of the cold war. Filmmaker David Hoffman describes how the launch of Sputnik, and later Gagarin, led not just to weapons development, but also to huge gains in basic science and support for education.
Jane Poynter spent two years and twenty minutes inside Biosphere 2, in an attempt to re-create the conditions that will face deep-space explorers, and colonizers of other planets. The lessons they learned apply not just to life in space, but to life on Earth as well.
Although Sputnik and Vostok sparked a race that ended with the Apollo missions setting down on the moon, no human has set foot there since 1792. At TED2007, Bill Stone planted a stake in the sand, announcing his intention to lead the first private mission to the moon.