YURI'S NIGHT IN TOMPKINS SQUARE ----------------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc firstname.lastname@example.org www.nyskies.org 2010 April 11
Introduction ---------- On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union became the first human to orbit Earth. His Vostok capsule circled the world in 1108 minutes, then landed safely. His flight galvanized the United States to eventually duplicate, then surpass, then trounce the USSR in human flight. This 'Space Race' culminated in the American Apollo program to send humans to and from the Moon in 1969-1972. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 there is close cooperation of the new Russian republic and the United States in space projects. Notable of these is the International Space Station, most of which consists of American and Russian modules. The importance of Gagarin's ride into orbit was shamefully neglected in the US for many decades while praises were heaped on only American astronauts. With the two countries as friendly, it was time to put the history straight. The idea of celebrating the anniversary of Yuri's flight came about in 1998 and the first Yuri's Night celebrations were staged in 2001. Now, all over the world in April Yuri's Night is celebrated. Parties, exhibits, shows, and other events are held in honor of this first of humans to achieve orbital flight around the Earth. In New York City the event is typically a social mixer at a nightclub in one of the City's trendy nabes.
Yuri's Night 2010 --------------- For the 2010 run of Yuri's Night in New York the event was held in DROM, a popular nightclub in Tonpkins Square, Manhattan. It is, in fact, diagonally opposite the southwest corner of the very square. A split stairs headed up to a restaurant and down to the dance and club floor. Yuri's Night was downstairs. It was a very classical manhattan hall, dimly lighted, loud music, flashing sweeping lights, ersatz decorations, linoneum floor. And, of course, a long bar on one side. When I arrived at 7:45PM EDST on April 10th, the hall had about 30 people already. The cam for an earlier 'VIP' reception costing a few tens of dollars. I passed this up for the main opening at 8PM with an admission of only $25. After 8PM people starting cascading in, soon filling the room with quite 100 guests! The room amply contained them with space to walk around or step off to the side.
Entertainment ----------- On projection screens were played pictures of a spacey theme, some seemingly just swirls and blobs, other somewhat like alien world scenes. They were seemingly randomly put up with no synch with the space music. No one paid specific attention to this display. It did have the collateral benefit of general illumination to the room! The narrator announced a fashion show. On a small podium pranced ladies in skimpy outfits, supposedly like those worn by ladies from other planets. Believe me, these ladies never checked out Tompkins Square right across the street! This show was probably a bone for the mostly male crowd. About 2/3 of the audience were male; 1/3, female. The women tried -- and succeded! -- in dressing up. They wore either pleasing party dresses or suits or fitted themselfs with space or alien ornaments. The bulk of men wore civvies, downright shlepps. A few attendees had laser swords! There was no room to swing them for doing battle so they skipped around with them. They blinked them on and off, waved them, posed for pictures. I was perhaps the most space-dressed male! I wore a celestial scarf around my shoulder and waist, held by butterfly clips. Several people asked me to pose for a picture!
Sexism in space? -------------- The fashion show, which lasted only about five minutes, was for me plain lousy. The costumes were not at all futurist. They were more retro than anything. The issue to hand was that this was staged for the little boys with nothing offered for the women guests. While in ages past just about all space fiction comic books and movies were taken in by boys, by now space enthusiasm caters to women as well. This Yuri's Night attracted about 40% women in the audience. One women next to me mused that the ladies parade was fine and all that, what is there for the female audience? Why not a fashion or something show of men? After skipping on the stage, the ladies mingled with the audience. They had utterly nothing to add to the intelligence level of the party but the little boys buzzed around them to take pictures.
Eats and drinks ------------- Basicly, there wasn't much. Like many clubs, food was taken in a separate restaurant section, in the DROM this was in the upstair hall. The bar in the party hall served the usual array of hard and soft drinks. There were only a small helping of snacks on the bar counter that depleted very quickly. What surprised me was the very low extent of drinking. While people berthed at the bar counter, they seemed to buy very few drinks of any sort! Almost no one walked around with a drink in hand! If DROM thought it would earn some good revenue from Yuri's Night drink sales, it probably fell far short of expectations. I say I was surprised because at other space )and astronomy) events where drinks are provided, there is a substantial patronage of both hard and soft items. I was more surprised that I myself did not take a drink! Normally, I'll get one or two or three or ... as the event rolled along. It took a while to realize, Hey!, I really didn't WANT a drink this time.
Featured talks ------------ At about 9PM the barker called us to hear the special speakers for the evening. I stayed for four of them. Each had five or so minutes to have his say, a limit enforced by the barker. Dr Denton Ebel, American Museum of natural History, gave a quick explanation of the Stardust mission that collected grit and grains from comet Wild 2. The comet came from the Kuiper Belt and brings its material to the inner solar system, where Stardust captured some and dropped off at Earth in 2006. He then described that study of Stardust material, in a sliver of the craft's collector pad only a millimeter long. Some one from the Space Frontier Foundation debunked criticism of the new NASA plan to junk the Constellation project and move human spaceflight to private and commercial industry. He stressed that it was NASA's grip on human spaceflight in the past that hobbled and retarded the development of a real spacefaring industry. Dr Gregory Matloff, NYC Technical College, played a video he and his wife C Bangs, made about saving the Earth with science and technology. He suggested that use of natural resources in space, like asteroids, to replace those used up or too costly on Earth. A fourth person, forget the affiliation, urged that Earth must consider space as just an other place in our surrounds. It is just as normal to venture to space as it was to cross the oceans and deserts on Earth. Eventually, after due exploration and experiments, space will become an other place where people will live, like they do in the Americas and Australia. I left after this fourth speaker, my time about running out.
Rude behavior! ------------ During all four speakers, when the audience should be attentive and quiet, there was a constant chatter and din in the room. People were casually bantering and chattering among themselfs, mindless of the interference they caused to those listening to the talks. All four speakers showed disapproval but the noise continued. None of the DROM or Yuri's Night crew intervened to quiet the room. Not even shouts of 'SHhh!' from the listeners calmed the noise. The speakers toughed it out and those fortunate to be up close did catch mot of their presentation. Dr Matloff had an extra problem. Each speaker was handed a mike. Matloff, after using the mike for a short introduction, played his video. Its sound entered the mike and caused echo and ringing. The audio crew seemed unable to correct this. The mike stayed active, not even turned off.
Denton Ebel --------- Dr Ebel is chair od the meteorite collection at the Museum and we met several times previously. During the milling around we chatted up for news and information. He was eager to learn more abut NYSkies, noting that he heard of it thru the old AAA. Ebel called attention to an upcoming conference of the Meteoritical Society in summer 2010 at the Museum. It's a scholarly event about rocks and minerals collected rom outer space. NYSkies (and any one else) may attend by simply registering for it. He gave me leads to the details, which I'll circulate to NYSkies. He asked for a sample NYC Events,which I'll email to him in a day or two.
The Space Shuttle --------------- I brang along a petition form for landing a retired Space Shuttle at th Intrepid Museum. The room was too dark and noisy to pass around the form. If I left it on the bar counter for signing it would sprout wings in an instant. I figured to casually sample the audience's sentiment about the prospect of having right here in the City a real Space Shuttle. What a shocking response I got! Almost NO ONE knew what I was talking about! The usual first reaction was that I was trying to get NASA to keep the SHuttle in service for a few years to 'close the gap' until a new human capsule is fielded! This is one proposal knocking around in Congress but it wasn't what I was after. I'll start petition circulation at NEAF, April 17-18, and continue at Earth Day, April 23-24. NYSkies has a booth at both shows.
Tompkins Square ------------- This is one of the early parks set out by the City as part of the scheme to leave certain tracts as open land here and there. Vy the 1980s is fell into a disgusting state of decay and a genuine shanty town sprang up in it. Residents in the surrounding blocks avoided the park, daring not to expose themselfs to its dangers and health hazards. In the 1990s the park was cleaned up, rebuilt, and is now a thriving oasis for all of East Village and Alphabet City. As I rode to and walked from DROM, I sw people coursing in and out of the park. East Village, in spite of its still grungy aspect, is a vigorous residential district, off of the Manhattan mainstream of traffic. Its streets are filled with shops, clubs, restaurants, and now trees.People crisscross the streets, heedless of traffic signals and oncoming vehicles. Lighting is amazingly subdued, compared to 'bright light' districts in other towns. Never the less, it can create hazardous shadows and confusing contours for walkers and drivers. Road traffic is chaotic with essentially no on-street parking. The area is a bit away from rail transit by a half to a full kilometer, but it is threaded thru by several bus lines. I rode to DROM on the 14th St bus, which stopped exacta mente in front of the club. Going home, I walked to 14th St and took the 14th St subway to Brooklyn. The dream os the Second Avenue Subway is more or less faded. The line was supposed to reach along Chrystie St but this segment is no longer actively under consideration. For the next couple decades only a short stub in the Upper East Side will be built. The area is under strong pressure to new housing that could displace the cheaper, cruddy, apartments. Already several id-rise buildings dot the blocks, with more on the drawing boards. An other pressure is from new York University to build new academic and residence halls for the school. The fate of the M8 crosstown bus is uncertain. It run sin 8th & 9th St and St Mark's Pl to connect East Village to all of Manhattan's trunkline rails and to Greenwich Village and West Village. Under the cost-cutting plans of NYC Transit, slated for summer of 2010, this route will cease to run in owl hours and on weekends!
Conclusion -------- Yuri's Night is meant to be a funky party, not a serious meeting for spacefaring. The silliness of the laser sabers and costumes was part of the festivities, as was the space music and pictures. The party was planned to run thru, gasp!, 4AN on Sunday, which in New York is 'time, gents' hour. I suppose some local folk, within walking distance or a short ride, did stay for that long. I also suppose there was a continuous turnover of guests, because while I was there there was a flow both ways thru the entrance. Each year Yuri's Night is in a different location around the City. I went to a couple of previous ones as my schedule permitted, more or less to represent the astronomy segment of the space profession. I was always welcomes, my admission fee being as good as the next fellow's, and was engaged in brief convos about space projects. All in all, it was a round of goofy fun, something we all need once in a while.