On Friday before I went to university I had some free time and an opportunity to see something worthy of a bucket list. I went down to the Science Museum in London to see the opening of the Cosmonauts Exhibition which was celebrating the achievements and heroes of the Russian Space programme. This is something that has come about time for many a space geek and for people who celebrate socialist culture. The Russian space history is perhaps one of the most underrated and under-appreciated accomplishments of human endeavour. I found out about the fact that the Russians were the first to launch a spacecraft not only broke the Earth’s gravitational pull but also discovered the solar wind. That was in 1959 with the launch of Luna 1. It was tracked by astronomers thanks to a trail of sodium vapour that was released as it travelled to the Moon.
Another great achievement to the space programme is either a sad story or a heart-warming tale of courage, depending on your point of view. Russia sent up dogs as the first living creatures into space and they were the trail blazers as the Soviets pushed the boundaries of exploration. Manned space flight was coming up but man’s best friend set the world in motion. Most of these dogs were tragically killed in most of the flights as the rocket technology was very temperamental. It was a loss that was unforeseen that these creatures didn’t deserve. I used to think that these dogs were mostly male, they actually all women. Mother Earth was encircled by beautiful girls of substance and vigour.
THE FAIRY TALE COMES TRUE
The exhibition is a wonderful and remarkable journey for people who feel the need for knowledge of the Soviet space triumphs. These underappreciated geniuses are the unsung heroes of the space race and they are still seen as unrecognised saviours of humanity today. These cosmic heroes did not stop coming after they failed to make it to putting a cosmonaut on the Moon. Yuri Gagarin, Sergei Korolev, Alexei Leonov, Valentina Tereshkova, Valentine Glushko are the pioneers of this business who saw the rockets from birth to domination. They are an embodiment of Soviet science that they used to impress the world with the power of socialism.
As a capitalist and a conservative I would write socialism off as a dogmatic system that forbids creative freedom and certain liberties. Well in the 1960s Nikita Kureshchev made some liberties possible for the Russian scientists to develop their dreams as they possibly could as long as they could show off to the west the superiority of socialism. I give them credit for whatever their achievements something good came out of that dogmatic stigma. One example of this is a reversal of the backward sexism of western culture at the time. The Soviets were the first to send up a woman in space called Valentina Tereshkova. Her spacecraft Vostok 6 is on display in the gallery in all it’s rugged weariness as it survived the descent back to Earth in 1963. You can see the effect of the Earth’s atmosphere heating it up as it fell back to Earth with all those scars on it’s exterior. Her achievement gave way for the whole of humanity to accept space as a universal place to conquest for all classes of citizens. Something that I greatly support because if humanity is to conquer space then that elitism needs to go.
POYEHOLI! – Let’s Go!
The most impressive thing for me was the appearance of the abandoned manned Moon programme with the actual lander that they were going to use. I would show pictures to you but sadly there was a photo ban in the exhibition. When I first saw the LK1 I stopped in stunned silence with shock and awe. That lander looked so primitive, but majestic. It was half the size and less advanced than the Apollo lunar module but powerful in it’s appearance. As I looked up at the viewing port of the vehicle I could sense the spirit of Alexei Leonov staring at me from that cockpit window. Coming into land like he could have done in an impressive piece of kit.
Standing next to the LK1 was Lunokhod 1, the world’s first remotely operated vehicle on another celestial body. Today we think of deep space cars on other planets like the Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity, Pathfinder and Curiosity. These vehicles were actually built from technology that Russia developed in it’s Moon programme. Lunokhod was a bath tub on wheels controlled from Earth that explored the Moon while America had packed up it’s bags and left the Moon. This ingenious device shows that for everything America failed to achieve Russia had something that they could do better than them. That is just a prime example of the way in which space is great way to preserve the peace and co-operation between the great nations of Earth to ensure the survival of the human race.
On this particular day I had the opportunity to pay homage to the chief designer of the Russian space administration. Sergei Korolov died in 1966 but his daughter Natalya was with her own daughters on that day that I was there. I was introduced to Natalya Korolov by the staff and told her that I was honoured and privileged to meet her. I was a big fan of her father’s work and that he was such an inspiration to me. Later I found myself useful to her friend who was looking for some appropriately sized shirts in the shop. I came in handy very useful that time round.
The Outpost Gallery was very impressive. It showed off some of the fashionable engineering solutions to space science. There was a collection of garments worn by the cosmonauts and the spacesuits they wore. Although less technically advanced they will come in handy when the exploration of Mars comes along in the next 20 – 30 years from now. Russian spacesuits were designed for long term use on the space stations that they built to remedy their failures from the Moon programme. They also became a force to be reckoned with NASA and America started to build a space station of their own, which eventually become the International Space Station.
This is probably the finest special exhibition that I have seen at the Science Museum. It was one of the best which I had to see. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is not to be missed and it runs until March 2016. So get going and see if your fancy a cosmonaut yourself.