Yuri’s Night at Cornell attracts community to celebrate space exploration

Asteroid mining, deep space exploration, and improving astronaut food were the main topics of discussion at the Yuri’s Night event last Friday at Cornell’s Fuertes Observatory. 

 The event was put on by Cornell’s Astronomical Society. It included two lectures, tours of the museum, observatory viewings, a viewing of different types of pre-packaged astronaut food, a flight simulator, space food samples and a screening of the film First Orbit. 

Yuri’s Night is a yearly international celebration to commemorate the first human launch into space, which occurred on April 12, 1961. These events occur all around the world with the intent to celebrate and promote space exploration milestones.

The event ran from 7:30 to midnight last Friday, and about 175 people attended.  Cornell sophomore Brecken Blackburn coordinated Yuri’s Night at Cornell. Blackburn said in the past, this scientific holiday had mainly been celebrated at Cornell by people in the Astronomical Society in a smaller event, but this year, it was promoted to also include the general public.

“We [Cornell Astronomical Society] think it’s really important that people understand space and understand why we go into space,” Blackburn said. “So we think Yuri’s Night is a really great way to reach out to people and explain why these sorts of things are so important.”

Topics of Discussion

The first speaker at Yuri’s night was Cornell Professor Mason Peck, a former Chief Technologist at NASA. Peck spoke about the need for space exploration, and the possibility of mining asteroids for minerals and precious metals. He stressed the importance of citizen science in making advancements in space information.

Cornell Professor Jean Hunter was the second speaker at the event. She presented from her research on creating the best space food that will both satisfy and adequately nourish astronauts.

Last year, Hunter worked on a research project that was funded through NASA’s Human Research Program. The project, led by Cornell and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, was a simulated Martian base where six “astronauts” lived to compare how taste and nutritional value compared in foods that were pre-packaged to foods that were freshly prepared by the crew themselves.

Hunter said it is important to present scientific research to the public because it helps people understand more about the world they live in and the possibilities to make advancements.

“A lot of what NASA does is very technologically complex and sometimes we [researchers] tend to go off in our own little pool of jargon and we miss a chance to engage with people who could really help us with good ideas,” Hunter said.

Community Interest in Astronomy

Gary Bergstrom, a professor of plant pathology at Cornell, attended the event because of an ad he had seen in the newspaper to promote the event.

“It’s funny because my wife and I had talked about coming over here [the Fuertes Observatory] for probably 30 years and this is the first time I’ve been here,” Bergstrom said. “We decided we wanted to do something fun this evening and we had always talked about doing this … I’m glad we finally made it, it was really fun and interesting.”


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