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The crew of the International Space Station marked Cosmonautics Day in orbit, reflecting on the accomplishments of Yuri Gagarin and the NASA's space shuttle. Pictured top row, left to right, NASA's Ron Garan, Alexander Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko, both of Russia. Below, left to right, Paulo Nespoli of Italy, Dmitry Kondratyev of Russia and Catherine "Cady" Coleman of NASA. Photo credit/NASA TV.The six U. S., Russian and Italian astronauts aboard the International Space Station celebrated the 50th anniversary of Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's historic first space flight on Tuesday with a day off. However, from Earth it looked like Russia's Cosmonautics Day was as demanding as any other, as the fliers floated before cameras time and again to talk about what Gagarin's 108 minute single orbit of the Earth meant after all this time."Now just 50 years later, living in space is considered practically normal," said NASA astronaut Catherine "Cady" Coleman, who began her six months of duty aboard the space station in mid-December. "The fact that my fourth grade son's classmates think it's perfectly normal that his mothers calls from space and helps him with his homework is a sign that we have really come a long way."Gagarin's solo mission signaled an early milestone in a Cold War space race between the former Soviet Union and the United States. Eventually, NASA caught up and raced ahead, landing a dozen men on the moon as part of the Apollo program between 1969 and 1972. But the risk and cost were so great, the U. S. retreated. The Cold War ended, and the Soviet Union dissolved into member states. As one of the surviving states, Russia inherited the Soviet strides in space and joined with the U. S., Europe, Japan and Canada to forge the 15-nation space station.In the U. S., Tuesday also marks an anniversary, the 30th anniversary of NASA's first shuttle flight, a two-day mission flown by John Young and Bob Crippen, demonstrating the first human reusable spacecraft. Within three or four months, Endeavour and Atlantis will fly the program's final missions, completing the long assembly and equipping of the space station for perhaps another decade or more of orbital operations. That leaves a question mark about what happens next for the U. S, Russia and their global colleagues. The asteroids? Mars? Back to the moon along the way?"To leave the planet is a big step," said Coleman. "But before you do that, there are some very important small steps that have to happen, and we have to have the patience through those small steps. So, I think that it's really great when we have a day like today, when we can look back and recognize the big steps when we are sometimes in the midst of the small ones. [These celebrations] remind us of the greater goal, which is to explore our universe."A portrait of the youthful Gagarin graces the space station's Russian segment, a regular reminder of how such an ambition is even conceivable. "Gagarin is a symbol," explained Dmitry Kondratyev, the station's commander. "It's not just that he is a Russian. He is a human, who made the first step ever into outer space, which became a milestone for mankind at large." His portrait is a symbol of a new era -- this person who symbolizes the human assault into space," said Kondratyev. "That is what is important."
os 99, ISS, NASA, Russia
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