Visit the Cosmonauts

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age at the Science Museum, London

The exhibition opened on 18 September 2015 and will run until 13 March 2016 at the Science Museum in London. The Museum is open until 10pm every Friday evening during this period to allow visitors more opportunities to see the exhibition.

18 September 2015 – 13 March 2016

Admission: £14, concessions available


Review by Vix Southgate, Author of Yuri Gagarin – The First Spaceman, Co-Author of Gagarin in Britain

The long awaited Cosmonauts exhibition is finally here! I have been waiting for this since the Yuri Gagarin 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2011. The amount of work, negotiations and blood, sweat and tears, that I assume, has gone into the organization of this exhibition has not been wasted! This exhibition has been a major collaboration between the Science Museum London, the Russian State Museum Exhibition Centre ROSIZO and the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos.

The exhibition is now in its second week and I was unsurprised by the amount of people in the exhibition – it was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser – and by the comments and the looks on the faces of the people who walked around, it was obviously a successful excursion! The rooms were full of people but due to the superb design, layout and flow of the displays, the space was not crowded and the exhibits were easily accessible.

The Science Museum’s promotional press release states: “From the work of late 19th century Cosmist thinkers who first proposed that humanity’s destiny lay in space, to the reality of living in space on board Mir and the International Space Station, the Cosmonauts exhibition gives visitors a unique opportunity to get up close to many of the key innovations that made space exploration possible.”

This is such a true statement! As I entered the first of the three rooms in the exhibition I was greeted with Russian music, to set the mood as I read about Tsiolkovsky and Korolev, and saw some wonderful items from their lives.

[pic1] Model of Tsiolkovsky’s Spaceship (1970-79)

Photo ©2015 Vix Southgate

From Korolev’s metal drinking cup, which he made in the Gulag camp in order to survive (without it he would not have been able to drink); to pages from Tsiolkovsky’s Album of Cosmic Journeys (1933) depicting his thought processes and concept designs. One of which – his spaceship – is on display in model form. This introduction helps to set the scene for the amazing exhibition beyond.


No, not the sound a Road Runner makes when taunting a Wylie-e-coyote, but rather the sound of the beginning of the Space Race – boldly written on the wall above my head alongside two models of Sputnik. The first model is open and exposing the original inner workings of the 1950’s technology. The second is the polished closed version that we all know and love. Chief Designer Korolev is said to have insisted on Sputnik’s shiny appearance as he believed that one day replicas would be displayed in the world’s museums. How right he was!

[pic2] Sputnik 1 satellite, 1957, (display model)

Photo ©2015 Vix Southgate


            ‘The Road to the Stars is Open’

The engineering technology dominates this exhibition – from models of Sputnik 1 and the impressive Luna Lander, to the capsules that have actually flown people in space.

Before the human space flights the Soviet’s sent dogs into space. This exhibition highlights Laika, who unfortunately died a few hours into the flight, and Belka and Strelka, who were the first dogs to come back alive (Strelka even went on to have healthy puppies, one of which was given to JF Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, as a gift). This successful return of animals set the stage for human spaceflight.

The flow of the room guided me through the constantly running news footage and images from the RIA Novosti archives. Past a truly spectacular 1958 engineering model of the Sputnik 3 satellite; and models of the Luna 1 space probe and Luna 16 lander, which became the first robotic mission to return Moon samples to Earth in 1970.

The Cosmonauts…

[pic3] Vostok VZA ejection seat (engineering model) and SK Suit as used on Vostoks 1–6, 1961-1963. and Vostok spacecraft comprising service and descent modules, 1961 (scale model).

Photo ©2015 Vix Southgate

The exhibition invites you to stop a while as it takes you through the Cosmonaut Training Schedule. With more RIA Novosti news footage next to the Vostok VZA ejection seat and Vostok 1 model and control panel. The exhibits are close enough to see all the details, including a glove print on one of the handles. The Gagarin exhibits are wonderfully personal, his flight mask and military jacket alongside the YG1 number plate from the open top car, in which he rode during his UK tour, together with the Honorary Membership Medal from the Amalgamated Union of Foundry Workers.

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, is the real star of the cosmonauts in this exhibition.

A mannequin, wearing the ventilation suit that she wore during the Vostok 6 mission in 1963, stands proudly next to her Vostok 6 capsule.

[Pic 4] Valentina Tereshkova’s Vostok-6 descent module, 1963

Photo ©2015 Vix Southgate

Never before seen outside of Russia, this magnificent capsule is most definitely the crowning jewel of the exhibition. It is displayed in a soviet red case and visually details the intensity of re-entry.

Sited opposite to Vostok 6 is the Voskhod 1 descent module, the first multi-manned spacecraft.

[pic5] Voskhod 1 descent module, 1964 (interior detail)

Photo ©2015 Vix Southgate

It may be a trick of the light or just that it was sited a short distance away from Vostok 6, but Voskhod 1 looked to be smaller and yet carried two more people, albeit without spacesuits, but even so it was cramped and this really does have to be seen to be believed!

I had seen what I was expecting to see and thought this was the end of the exhibition. I walked through a linking room, and briefly glanced at the small television, which was showing the famous US moon landing news footage. As I turned the corner, I was met by life-sized engineering models from the Soviet’s secret Lunar programme. I was astounded by the size and amazing design of the LK-3 moon lander, which is one of only four surviving engineering test spacecraft. The similarities between the US and USSR technology, seems to be very closely matched. However, the Soviet space programme lost its main driving force when Korolev died suddenly in 1966 and this had a great impact on the Soviet’s race to the Moon.

 Living in Space

The final exhibition room is all about life on board the Mir space station. It includes Helen Sharman’s spacesuit, space food, space shower and toilet and an impressive array of cosmonaut fashion and accessories. My favourite being the Pressure Trousers, which brought to mind Nick Park’s ‘The Wrong Trousers’.

Chibis (Lapwing) Lower Body [pic6] Negative Pressure Suit, 1971 – present

Photo ©2015 Vix Southgate

“Earth is the cradle of humanity but one cannot live in a cradle forever!” Tsiolkovsky, 1911

The exhibition closes with what I initially thought was an art installation of a man in a cradle. On closer inspection it is a ‘Tissue-equivalent phantom mannequin’ with the face of Gagarin, which was sent around the Moon in Zond 7 in August 1969. It had sensors set into its body to measure the radiation levels around the moon.

[Pic7] Tissue-Equivalent Phantom Mannequin flown around the Moon on Zond-7 (1969)

Photo ©2015 Vix Southgate

I highly recommend spending a few moments in the final room with the mannequin lying peacefully in his cradle, as it is highly emotive and gives you time to reflect on the wonders of this amazing exhibition before exiting to the Cosmonauts shop.

The Cosmonauts exhibition is a fantastic mixture of Soviet space history, design and high-end technology and the sheer determination of a nation and their desire to push the boundaries of space exploration.

Books by Vix Southgate are on sale in the Cosmonauts shop:

Yuri Gagarin – The First Spaceman (ISBN: 9781901587517)

Gagarin in Britain (ISBN: 9780863556630)






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