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The Space Foundation removed Yuri Gagarin’s name from an upcoming fundraising event after it received derogatory and anti-Russia comments on its social media accounts.
The organization did not revoke any formal honors from the cosmonaut. Exhibits related to Gagarin are still on display at the foundation’s gallery in Colorado, and his accomplishments will still be celebrated at the annual event, the group said.
In 1961, Soviet Union pilot and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin made history when he became the first person in the world to travel to space.
Now, Gagarin’s name has been thrust back in the spotlight as social media posts claim that he was "stripped" of his honors due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
"The Space Foundation has stripped honours from Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man to ever be in space," read the caption of a Facebook post shared by the Post Millennial, a conservative Canadian online magazine. The post features an article that talks about how Gagarin’s name was removed from a fundraiser event hosted by the foundation.
"The Space Foundation has erased the honors previously bestowed on Yuri Gagarin, the first man to ever be in space. His name was stripped ‘in light of current events.’ The Foundation’s annual ‘Yuri’s Night’ was replaced with ‘A Celebration of Space: What’s Next?’" another Facebook post said.
The posts were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The Space Foundation, a nonprofit space advocacy organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, did remove Gagarin’s name from the annual event amid the war in Ukraine.
The organization did not, however, rescind any honors or awards from Gagarin, and he will still be mentioned in the event’s programming.
The fundraiser, slated to take place on April 3 to kick off the 37th Annual Space Symposium, was originally named "Yuri’s Night" but was changed to "A Celebration of Space: Discover What's Next" in early March 2022.
The organization said it decided to change the event’s name "in light of current events," according to an archived version of the symposium’s agenda.
Rich Cooper, a spokesperson for the foundation, told PolitiFact that Gagarin will still be honored at the event and that the foundation hasn’t revoked any formal honors from the cosmonaut.
"This has been a disinformation campaign as (the) Space Foundation has not stripped Yuri Gagarin of any honors," Cooper wrote in an email. "Yuri Gagarin will still be recognized and celebrated at our April 3 program … alongside a number of other notable space achievements and current happenings."
The organization deleted the agenda note and released a full statement about the change on March 19, saying that it started to receive negative social media comments about Russia shortly after it began posting notices about the event in late February, then still called "Yuri’s Night."
"Wanting to ensure the focus of the evening remained on our goals — the kickoff of the 10th anniversary of Space Foundation Discovery Center and raising funds for our education programs — we made the decision to change the name to ‘A Celebration of Space: Discover What’s Next’," the statement said, adding that the event will highlight Yuri’s flight, the anniversary of the Space Shuttle, and other space milestones.
The derogatory online comments prompted the organization to pause its advertising for the program and discuss how to address the situation.
"Not wanting to have any of our social media pages be a platform for hate or anger, and to keep the focus on our event and its goals, we made the decision to change the name," Cooper said.
The foundation also hasn’t altered any exhibits related to Gagarin, including a bust of the cosmonaut displayed in its gallery.
A Facebook post claims, "the Space Foundation has erased the honors previously bestowed on Yuri Gagarin, the first man to ever be in space. His name was stripped ‘in light of current events.’"
This is misleading.
The Space Foundation removed Gagarin’s name from an event after it received derogatory and anti-Russian comments on its social media accounts due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the organization did not revoke any formal honors from the cosmonaut. Gagarin’s exhibits are still on display at the foundation and his accomplishments will still be celebrated at the event.
The post contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
Facebook, Post Millennial post, March 19, 2022
Facebook post, March 20, 2022
SpaceFoundation.org, EXPLANATION OF "A CELEBRATION OF SPACE: DISCOVER WHAT’S NEXT" EVENT, March 19, 2022
SpaceFoundation.org, Space Symposium agenda archive, March 3, 2022.
Email interview, Rich Cooper, spokesperson at the Space Foundation, March 29, 2022
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