Men first landed on the Moon just a few months before I was born, so I'm too young to remember the Apollo program in its glory days, though I do have vivid memories of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission when Thomas Stafford and Alexei Leonov exchange a handshake in space. I also remember Skylab, including its destructive reentry into Earth's atmosphere in 1979. And of course I remember even more clearly the test launches of the space shuttle Enterprise (which thrilled the Star Trek fan in me) and the early launches of the Columbia.
But all these events, impressive though they are, pale in comparison to another event that occurred before I was born, whose 50th anniversary we commemorate today: Yuri Gagarin's 1961 journey aboard Vostok that made him the first human being to enter space and return. Gagarin's flight is one of those genuinely world-changing events whose impact cannot easily be summed up. While spaceflight is neither as commonplace nor as exciting as my youthful self had hoped it would be by now, that has no bearing on the significance of today's anniversary. I still hold hope that, if not in my own lifetime, perhaps in my children's the promise of Gagarin's flight might begin to be fulfilled.