Press release

50th anniversary of human space flight

08 April 2011

Europe’s largest professional engineering society, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), is holding a keynote event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of human space flight. The event takes place at the IET in Savoy Place on Tuesday 12 April.

On 12 April 1961 the Vostok 1 mission launched Yuri Gagarin on the first ever human spaceflight. Gagarin’s flight lasted only 108 minutes, but its impact was immense, leading ultimately, to such achievements as the Apollo missions to the Moon, the space shuttle, and the Mir and International space stations.

As a result of these, new endeavours in human spaceflight are under development, such as private space travel, commercial space transportation and, in the longer term, human exploration of the solar system.

Tuesday’s lecture will explore some of these issues. Dr Chris Welch from the IET is chairing the event.  He said: “Yuri Gagarin’s flight 50 years ago was an amazing technological feat, but more than that, it was a key moment in human history. For the very first time, our species left Earth and took the very first step in exploring space. This was, and remains, an inspirational achievement and is the theme underlying the IET Gagarin lecture.”  

John Yates, the IET’s space expert, said: “We're celebrating not only Yuri Gagarin's achievement but also the ground-breaking skills and ingenuity of the team of Russian engineers and technologists that made his flight possible.  Equally amazing is that 50 years on it is now possible for anyone to follow in Yuri Gagarin’s tracks as a paying passenger on a Virgin Galactic space plane.  Where will we be in the next 50 years?”

Speaking at the event will be John Zarnecki, Professor of Space at the Open University, David Williams who is the Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency and space broadcaster Chris Riley. Each of the lecturers will be offering their own perspective on space exploration and exploitation: past, present and future.

The IET’s Yuri Gagarin lecture comes at a pertinent time in the UK, as this year’s budget included the announcement of £10 million for investment in the UK’s space industry and planned changes to the Outer Space Act.

Media enquiries to:

Robert Beahan
External Communications Manager

Tel: +44 (0)1438 767336
Mob: +44 (0)7595 400912

Notes to editors:

  • The IET is Europe’s largest professional body of engineers with over 150,000 members in 127 countries.
  • For more information, visit