One of my most anticipated exhibitions of the year was the Science Museum’s Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age. When we think of space travel, we often think of the USA’s feat of landing on the moon, and Neil Armstrong’s status as the first human to step on to the moon. However, it was the Russians that led the way in terms of space exploration.
After the Russian Revolution, many Russians dreamed about space travel and I enjoyed looking at the pictures and models from the early 20th century. For instance, Georgy Krutikov’s drawings of capsules and space cities date from 1928, well before space travel became a reality. The exhibition charts how the dream became a reality: the first satellite in space (1957), the first animal in orbit (1957), the first man in space (1961), the first spacewalk (1965), and the first on Mars and Venus (1970s).
Models and diagrams help to bring home the enormous complexity of the task, and souvenirs, statues and posters emphasise how individuals such as Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova became lauded as national – and international – heroes. Even in the context of the Cold War, Gagarin’s visit to London in 1961 was a huge success. My favourite aspects of the exhibition were the inclusion of personal items such as cosmonauts’ space suits and the tiny capsules that transported these pioneers around the earth, now charred and blackened after shooting through the atmosphere. It was sobering to look at these compact capsules, which now seem almost retro, and to think that they were responsible for successfully keeping their inhabitants safe as they orbited.
Later in the exhibition, the technology of space travel at the time is explored, with items on display including different clothes for different situations, food sachets, and even a shower. As space travel was such a new concept, the designers made use of feedback from the cosmonauts as to what worked and what didn’t. The shower was not particularly popular.
I loved this exhibition – it was absolutely fascinating. It runs until 13 March next year, so don’t miss your chance to visit.