Do the maths!

It’s a real privilege to get right up close to an object; being able to read an inscription; noticing the wear and tear; discovering an unexpected little detail. A few years ago I examined the Museum’s Beta 1 – a late 1940s rocket engine – and spotted the letters ‘T STOFF INLET’ inlet stamped on one of the valves.

Beta 1 rocket engine inscription

My discovery on the Beta 1 rocket engine © Science Museum / Science & Society

This British engine was a precursor to those used on the Black Arrow space rocket and I knew of its German ancestry but was still delighted to find clear evidence preserved on the artefact (T Stoff was the German term for hydrogen peroxide oxidiser).

Of course, the problem with many museum objects is that they have to be kept behind glass.

The Apollo 10 command module – one of the Museum’s Centenary icons – is rather fortunately not enclosed but has still to be physically isolated from the visitor with a barrier and from air-born dust by Perspex covers over the hatch and docking port.

Apollo 10 command module, 1969

Apollo 10 command module, 1969 © Science Museum / Science & Society

So for one day only in May of 2009, to commemorate the mission’s 40th anniversary, we sought permission from the spacecraft’s owner – the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum – to VERY CAREFULLY allow people up close to peer inside the spacecraft.

It took a lot of organising, but it was wonderful to see the reactions of the very young visitors who, with help from mum or dad, enjoyed looking in at the truly space age control consoles of the spacecraft.

Computer keyboard, Apollo 10.

Computer keyboard, Apollo 10 © Science Museum / Science & Society

They could just about make out the hurried pencil jottings that the astronauts had made near their computer console. They’d probably been working out some bearings or the timing of a rocket engine burn. As the astronauts say themselves: if you want to be an astronaut you need to work hard at school and do the maths!

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