Monday, 15 February 2016

Birth of the Space Age

Cosmonauts Birth of the Space Age, Science Museum, London. February 2016.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am pretty interested in the history of manned space flight and that I'll travel all over the place to see new things and meet new people.  Apart from the one trip last year to see Alexei Leonov I've not had the chance to see or learn much about the Russian Space Programme, mainly thanks to the secrecy surrounding it.

Mr Norfolkbookworm (and my dad) did make a trip to Russia a few years ago and got to see Star City as well as some other space sights and museums but the chance to see many items all curated together wasn't to be missed and so we found ourselves at the Science Museum shortly after the museum opened ready to explore this exhibition thoroughly.

I found it to be utterly fascinating, from the early ideas and drawings of those who had no idea of what space would be like (but who were unnervingly accurate with their predictions) right through to Soyuz capsule identical to the one that Tim Peake will return to earth in later this year the exhibition was well laid out and fascinating.

From trips to Florida I knew how primitive the early space program had been but this was a whole new level, the imperative to be first just caused so much innovation and bravery as well as luck...

Highlights for me included seeing the capsule that carried the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into space and also the proposed lunar lander.  Thanks to a very knowledgeable guide the utter bravery (or lunacy) of the proposed Soviet moon landing really came to life, and her advice to go into the main space gallery after the exhibition and to compare this lander with the American one was brilliant.

Seeing items that are familiar from watching more recent missions to MIR and ISS was also interesting and I particularly loved the dining table, complete with hot plate that was used on MIR.  I can't tell which space program had the better food however.

Coming out of the exhibition the last item on display was a mannequin that Soviets sent around the moon to see what the effects of space travel would have on the human body, it was life sized with areas for human tissue equivalents to be included which were then studied on return to Earth.  This mannequin was launched shortly after the death of Gagarin and in tribute to him the face was a detailed model of his own. This gave the 'phantom mannequin' a really spooky presence and really reminded me of the body casts from Pompeii.

We spent a long time in the exhibition reading and studying everything closely and at no point felt like we were being encouraged to move on.  After meeting Leonov it was really nice to see his own art work especially the image of sunrise in space that he drew while on orbit but the thing that stays with me the most is that if perhaps the two space programs had been more open then some of the disasters and deaths that have occurred really could have been avoided.

After leaving the exhibition - via the gift shop naturally - we went into the main part of the museum to see the model of the US lunar lander and also the Apollo 10 capsule.  This was doubly poignant as in April we will be (all being well) meeting Gene Cernan who flew to the moon in "Charlie Brown" and also because a couple of days before our visit Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, sadly died - 45 years minus one day since he landed on the moon.

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