The DownlinkApr 09, 2021

Happy Flightiversary to the Space Shuttle and Yuri Gagarin

Space Snapshot

Perseverance examines ingenuity

Like a proud parent, NASA’s Perseverance rover looks back at the small Ingenuity helicopter it deployed on Mars. Ingenuity is scheduled to perform the first powered takeoff and landing on another planet as early as 11 April. Wondering who shot the photo? Perseverance used its robotic arm to snap images from a variety of angles; the arm has been cropped out. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kevin M. Gill

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Fact Worth Sharing

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Yuri Gagarin, the first human to travel to space, wrote a letter to his wife before his flight saying he likely wouldn’t return—but he never gave it to her. She found it after he safely returned home.

Mission Briefings

Spacex crew 2 dirty fingers

A three-person crew was scheduled to launch to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft as The Downlink published. Later this month, the new Soyuz crew will be joined by four additional crew members after a SpaceX Dragon blasts off from Florida on 22 April. That mission will for the first time rely on a previously flown SpaceX rocket booster. Pictured above: the new Dragon crew writes their initials in soot on the side of their used rocket. Image credit: SpaceX


Europa Clipper passed its Critical Design Review. The NASA mission to Jupiter’s icy moon can now proceed with spacecraft assembly and testing. Europa Clipper could launch as early as 2024. It will try to determine whether the moon’s subsurface water ocean could support life.

From The Planetary Society

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Rockets designed to carry humans usually fly without them first. That wasn’t the case for the Space Shuttle, which launched for the first time on 12 April 1981 with astronauts John Young and Bob Crippen aboard. Crippen sat down with Planetary Radio’s Mat Kaplan to mark the 40th anniversary of the shuttle’s first flight. Image credit: Gordon Auld for The Planetary Society

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Celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first Space Shuttle launch! We’ve collected a treasure trove of shuttle resources for you, including images, interviews, and personal stories from our members.

What's Up

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Mars joins the stars Aldeberan and Betelgeuse in the evening southwest sky this week to form a triangle of reddish dots. If you're an early riser, Jupiter and Saturn are still visible in the predawn sky. Learn more at

Yuri’s Night 2021 is here!

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This year’s Yuri’s Night livestream on 10 April is celebrating 3 milestones: the 60th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first flight, the 40th anniversary of the Space Shuttle program, and the 20th anniversary of the Yuri’s Night party itself. It’s the biggest space party of the year. You don’t want to miss it!

Guests include Richard Branson, Simone Giertz, Everyday Astronaut Tim Dodd, Leland Melvin, and our very own CEO, Bill Nye. The livestream starts at 4 p.m. PT | 7 p.m. ET | 11 p.m. UTC.

The stream is free to watch, and you can also purchase a backstage pass to join the virtual pre-and-post-show parties for $15. Learn more here.

Wow of the Week

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Astronauts John Young (left) and Bob Crippen (right) sit in the cockpit of Space Shuttle Columbia prior to its first flight on 12 April 1981. The shuttle required a human at the controls to launch and land, setting up an inaugural test flight with astronauts aboard that is unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. Credit: NASA / Edited by The Planetary Society