The Space Foundation did not “strip the honors” of Yuri Gagarin

The claim: The Space Foundation stripped honors from Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin

The Space Foundation – an internationally renowned space advocacy nonprofit based in Colorado Springs – found itself at the center of a social media storm after news that it had renamed a fundraiser amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Some articles claim that the non-profit organization “stripped the honours” from Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin due to “current world events”. Gagarin, who made the first trip to space in 1961, is widely considered one of the founding fathers of space exploration.

“The first man in space, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, has been stripped of his honors by the US-based Space Foundation, which has censored his name ‘in light of current world events,'” reads- on on Facebook on March 20.

The same statement has spread widely on Facebook and Twitter over the past few weeks. But he misinterprets what really happened.

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The Space Foundation has neither revoked nor canceled any official Gagarin awards, nor removed the Soviet cosmonaut from the event lineup. The organization changed the name of a fundraising event this year from “Yuri’s Night” to “A Celebration of Space: Discover What’s Next.” Rich Cooper, spokesperson for the foundation, told USA TODAY that the event will always honor Gagarin.

USA TODAY contacted several social media users who shared the claim for comment.

Space Foundation changed name of fundraiser, didn’t ‘retract honors’

Prior to this year, the Space Foundation’s annual fundraising event had been called “Yuri’s Night” since its inception nearly a decade ago. Usually organized on the eve of the international A Space Symposium conference, the event raises funds for the Space Foundation’s science, technology, engineering and math programs, according to the nonprofit organization’s website.

A number of social media reports on the name change quoted a memo from the foundation in which it stated that it was removing Gagarin’s name from the fundraiser’s title “in light of current world events”. This memo was released in early March, according to an archived version of the Space Symposium agenda.

On March 19, the Space Foundation deleted that note and released a statement explaining the name change. The non-profit organization said in the statement that while publicizing this year’s event in late February and early March, it “started receiving a number of negative messages about Russia.”

“Wanting to ensure that the focus of the evening remains on our goals – the 10th anniversary launch of the Space Foundation Discovery Center and raising funds for our educational programs – we have made the decision to change the name to ‘A Celebration of Space: Discover What’s Next,'” the statement read.

Cooper told USA TODAY the decision was also made to prevent animosity during the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We know the emotions are very, very high,” he said. “We didn’t want anyone to be anti-Russian or anti-anything else on our page.”

Fact check:The modified photo of a tractor towing a Russian rocket started as a satire

“Yuri’s Night” will always celebrate Gagarin’s journey into space, as well as “other past, present and future space milestones,” the foundation’s statement said. The foundation also did not alter archives or exhibits related to Gagarin, such as a bust of the cosmonaut that sits at the entrance to the Discovery Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“We’re confident we can celebrate Yuri and so much more,” Cooper said, adding he wasn’t sure the name change was permanent.

Our opinion: Missing context

Based on our research, we assess MISSING CONTEXT the claim that the Space Foundation stripped honors from Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The Space Foundation has changed the name of a fundraiser from “Yuri’s Night” to “A Celebration of Space: Discover What’s Next.” It has not revoked any awards, or removed any exhibits or mentions of Gagarin from its Discovery Center.

Our fact-checking sources:

  • Rich Cooper, April 25, phone interview with USA TODAY
  • Space Symposium, accessed March 23, About the Space Foundation
  • Space Foundation, accessed March 24, Discover What’s Next Celebration
  • Space Foundation, archived March 3, 37th Space Symposium Agenda
  • Space Foundation, March 19, “A Celebration of Space: Discover What’s Next” event explained
  • Space Foundation, March 2017, Party With a Purpose: Space Foundation Yuri’s Night
  • USA TODAY, April 12, 2020 Yuri Gagarin’s space expedition launched humanity forward

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