Sunday, 24 May 2015

Cosmonaut Antics

 An evening with Alexei Leonov, Science Museum, London. May 2015.

What should have been a simple 'pop to London, have supper, meet a cosmonaut and come home again' evening turned into a near disaster this week - although of course not on the same scale of disasters that Alexei Leonov spoke about!  Trains conspired against us and instead of a leisurely ride we had a fraught drive to London but despite everything it was worth it.

This time the event was organised by the Science Museum and Starmus and we had the opportunity to hear the first man to walk in space - Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov - talk about his missions.  The event wasn't as well organised as those we go to in Pontefract, the doors opened late, there was lots of unexplained queueing and then a scrum in the auditorium but all of that faded away when the talk proper started.

Leonov didn't use fancy technology for his talk, but rather sketched what he was describing onto a blackboard which was a lovely old school, interactive way to get across his message.  Like all of the best speakers on the space programme there was a perfect balance of science, anecdote, humour and tension in Leonov's talk.  Although it was clear that he had survived his missions the way he described the first ever space walk was heart in the mouth stuff and as nerve wracking fifty years later as it much have been at the time!

The human touches of the speech will always stick in my mind more than the technical aspects and I am left with the image of Alexei and his commander stuck in the wilds of Russia after landing stark naked in the middle of winter as they try to dry out their space suits a little!

The talk took a fine line between toeing the Soviet/Russian line of secrecy and positive spin and what seemed like Leonov's own desire to be open and honest but to be honest none of that mattered to me, I was just so pleased to have the chance to hear from another great from the early space programme.

Two things really struck me about the event - one was Leonov's wholehearted praise for British astronauts - Helen Sharman and Tim Peake, The other how hard the interpreters worked on the night.  Leonov spoke in Russian and this was turned into English by two very talented interpreters who kept up with his technical speech and humour wonderfully. I don't speak Russian but I could spot enough to be amused at their turning every 'Soviet' into 'Russian' regardless of what term would have been historically correct! I gather that there was also another team taking the English in to Russian for Leonov and the Russians in the audience.

After the hour long talk Leonov was created a Fellow of the Science Museum and then their was an opportunity to get an item signed by him.  This was by necessity short and sweet as Leonov, who is 81 next week, was obviously shattered after a long day of events, but I am very pleased to have been able to meet him and, in execrable Russian say Спасибо.

It turns out that some of the delay in the start of the event was because behind the scenes in the museum items on loan to London from Russia were being moved about ready for the Cosmonauts exhibition in the autumn - something else to look forward to!

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