“When I grow up, I’m going to be an astronaut”
At some moment or another, I’m sure all of us dreamt of dreams to voyage into outer space, perhaps with tinfoil wrapped around our body and a silver colander on our heads. Over 50 years after the first human journeyed into outer space, travelling into space is still the biggest adventure.
My knowledge of the space age mainly derives from American history and is filtered through Western history books, so it’s easy to overlook Russia’s monumental achievements and forget that they were the ones who broke through first. Russia was the first to launch a satellite (Sputnik in 1957), the first to have an animal orbit into space and they were the first to have a cosmonaut travel into space with Yuri Gagarin in 1961. However Russian achievements don’t shine as bright as America’s which, in my opinion, is partially due to the launch of Apollo 11 and the massive media coverage it received which engrained it as an emblem of the space race and America’s triumph. The Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition at the Science Museum finally provides a platform for soviet space achievements.
Here are 5 things I took away from the Cosmonauts exhibition:
Valentina Tereshkova: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are household names, but the Russian cosmonauts never got enough recognition during my school history classes. In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel into space and to top it off, she did it solo aged 26. Alongside other artefacts charting Valentina’s journey, on display is the colossal Vostok 6 that carried Valentina.
Rockets and Spacecrafts: Spud-nik! (Friends reference, I’m not spelling it wrong!) The LK-3 Lunar Lander and Sputnik 1 were a few of the models on display – the Lunar Lander was Russia’s equivalent of Apollo and Sputnik (replica on display) was the first artificial satellite. There was something so retro but ultra-futuristic about these objects.
Space fever: Space fever radiates each corner of the exhibition. The space race was extremely heated during the 50s and 60s and the soviet propaganda posters dispersed throughout the room, the films, paintings, photography and the letters of admiration pouring to the cosmonauts who became heroes, brings this period in time alive.
Surviving in space: The final room is dedicated to the gadgets cosmonauts use in space including a toilet, a fridge, a range of spacesuits suited to different environments and survival kits. I wonder if Matt Damon would have found all of this handy.
After the Apollo mission Neil Armstrong said, “I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small” and Cosmonauts brought alive this atmosphere of a purpose larger than the ordinary and an ambition that had no bounds.
Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age is on at the Science Museum until the 13th of March 2016