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Moffett a space-age playground for 'Yuri's Night'

Stunt planes, hip-hop, crazy art and more mark NASA celebration in honor of Russian cosmonaut

Air stunts, hip-hop, space talk, high tech, grand art -- you name it, "Yuri's Night" had it.

NASA's annual celebration drew 12,000 people to Moffett Field over the weekend. Some came to see performances by Les Claypool, Common and the Black Keys. Others looked skyward to watch Moffett Field's first air show in years.

The event's name is homage to Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first person to make a flight into space 49 years ago on April 12, 1961 (preceded by a Russian dog named Lika). With Yuri's Night 2010, NASA hoped to make its scientific work more appealing to young people through a sort of Burning Man-meets-space flight theme.

Two large stages were set up, one on the Moffett Field tarmac and another inside Hangar 211 -- the same hangar where the founders of Google usually park their personal airplanes. Big-name performers were scheduled this year, including electronic music by the Glitch Mob, hip-hop by N.E.R.D and Common as well as alternative rock from Les Claypool (the bassist from Primus) and the Black Keys.

NASA Ames said about 12,000 people attended the event, including 6,000 students on Friday, ages 9 to 18, for educational events, some of it hands-on activities such as building and launching rockets. They heard Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak talk about the secrets of his success, and from DJ Q-Bert, an innovator in electronic music, about record scratching.

Talks covered a range of subjects, from the International Space Station to virtual worlds, and a panel of hip-hop artists spoke on how to bridge the "digital divide" with poorer communities.

This was the fourth Yuri's Night celebration and coincided with others around the world. There were four other such celebrations at NASA centers in the U.S., but perhaps none was a more ironic place to celebrate a Russian icon than NASA Ames at Moffett Field, where P-3 Orion aircraft were based during the Cold War, routinely flying overhead until the early 1990s to patrol the Pacific Ocean for Soviet submarines.

Displaying his sense of humor, NASA Ames director Pete Worden wore a Soviet-era Russian general's uniform. Deputy director Lew Braxton wore a Star Trek character's outfit.

Between musical performances, several stunt pilots wowed the crowd on Saturday evening with loops, barrel rolls and stalls performed high above the airfield.

Of the 120 exhibits on display, one of most popular was the "Raygun Gothic Rocketship," which had a line of people waiting to climb inside. Both retro sculpture and grown-up play structure, the Rocketship was built by a collective of Oakland artists called Five Ton Crane for the art festival Burning Man. Artist Leslie Grunditz said the rocket contained "artifacts from our journeys through the cosmos" as well as a captain's chair.

For a full schedule of the events at NASA Ames, click here. For more on last weekend's celebrations worldwide, visit www.yurisnight.net.

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