SOKOL space suit worn by Helen Sharman in 1991, manufactured by 'Zvezda'.

Helen Sharman’s spacesuit

During the preparations for our landmark exhibition, Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, we reunited Britain’s first astronaut, Helen Sharman, with her spacesuit around a quarter of a century after she first wore it for her pioneering mission to the Mir space station.

Helen’s journey began in 1989 when she, then a food technologist, answered an advertisement that she had heard on her car radio:  “Astronaut wanted. No experience necessary.” With Timothy Mace, she was eventually selected from over 13,000 applicants to represent the British Juno Mission and she spent 18 months training in Star City before she was picked for the launch.

Helen had to endure the centrifuge (to experience g-forces) and hydro tank (for spacewalk training) but was fortunate that her physiology was well suited to these challenges. However, when it came to getting dressed for space she admitted: “Perhaps the greatest discomfort I suffered was doing tests in an off the shelf spacesuit, which was suited to fit a man.”

For Juno, Helen was measured in 54 different places to ensure her Sokol (‘Falcon’) suit was a snug fit and could protect her at the riskiest stages of her mission, where there is a likelihood of cabin depressurization, during take-off, docking, undocking and landing.

SOKOL space suit worn by Helen Sharman in 1991, manufactured by 'Zvezda'.

SOKOL space suit worn by Helen Sharman in 1991, manufactured by ‘Zvezda’. Credit: Science Museum / SSPL

In the Science Museum, we reunited Helen with her spacesuit along with television presenter Dallas Campbell, who is working with filmmaker Chris Riley on a programme about spacesuits. Later I joined them for an event at the Royal Institution, where Cosmonauts curator Doug Millard and conservator Kate Perks also brought along Helen’s radio helmet.

The world’s first spacesuits were developed by the NPP (Research & Development Production Enterprise) Zvezda (‘Star’), which was built in 1952 in the Moscow province of Tomilino and was led for many decades by academician Guy Severin, an expert in developing and creating life-support systems for pilots and cosmonauts. To this very day, every cosmonaut from Yuri Gagarin onwards has passed through this venerable space institution. “The road to the cosmos passes via Zvezda,” explains Severin’s successor, Sergei Pozdnyakov, chief executive and designer.

The world’s first spacesuit, SK-1 – orange, with a white helmet inscribed in red ‘CCCP’ – was worn in the first flight by Gagarin to the sixth by Valentina Tereshkova. Development of the SK-1 by Zvezda began in 1959 but Helen Sharman would wear a later design, the Sokol, which was developed more than a decade later in response to a tragedy.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard the Vostok spacecraft.

Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin aboard the Vostok spacecraft. Credit: Ria Novosti

Pressure suits had been used on the early Vostok space missions, but when the Soyuz spacecraft was being developed in the mid-1960s the controversial decision was taken not to use them on the new spacecraft. That changed after the death in 1971 of the crew of Soyuz-11, Georgi Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsaev, who all perished while returning from the Salyut-1 space station when their descent module lost pressure.

Human space flights were temporarily halted and Zvezda designed the new Sokol-K spacesuit within a year. The spacesuit design evolved from the pressure suits worn by the first jet pilots to help them to cope with low pressure and lack of oxygen at high altitudes by supplying their air to them in a person-shaped‚ pressurized bag.

Zvezda replaced the rigid helmet of these jet pilot suits with a soft, non-removable helmet, including a hinged glass visor which could be lifted. To become a space suit they also had to redesign its basic shape. Pozdnyakov explained that, while an aircraft pilot adopts the same position as a car driver, a cosmonaut sits more like “an embryo in the womb”.

The resulting Sokol-K first came into use in 1973. Since its introduction, Zvezda has tweaked the design, trying various different gusset-openings, lacings, separation of the two halves at chest or waist level, and water-cooled emergency suits. In an emergency it turns out that it is most important to have a spacesuit that can be put on quickly and, by the close of the 1970s, the organisation had essentially settled on today’s model, the Sokol KV-2. “In space travel it is absolutely essential that all the technology and the systems should be 100% reliable, so that most of our time is spent not so much on developing new things, but on optimizing, perfecting and testing the old,” said Pozdnyakov.

The 22 lb suit consists of an inner layer of rubberised material and outer layer of white nylon. The suit includes the cosmonaut’s feet and its gloves attach by means of blue anodised aluminium wrist couplings. There is a pressure gauge on the left wrist and a mirror on the right to help the cosmonaut see things that would otherwise be outside his or her field of view.

The fundamental design of any spacesuit ultimately depends on its use. For the Buran (‘Snowstorm’) spaceship, cosmonauts would take a more active role, demanding a new kind of spacesuit. The Soviet manned lunar programme required the development of the Krechet (‘Gyrfalcon’) space suit, which had a rigid body with soft sleeves and soft trouser legs.  This led to the Orlan (‘Sea-Eagle’) series of semi rigid spacesuits, used for spacewalks.

The Sokol holds a special place in space culture, remarks Pozdnyakov. Hundreds of these suits have been made over the years. The Sokol “has become a symbol of man’s flight into the cosmos,” he explained in the book to accompany the exhibition. “As the developers, we find it very nice to hear Sandra Bullock, the star of the Hollywood film Gravity, saying that the Russian space suit is a work of art.”

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, Science Museum Group.

A rogue cell blooms into a kaleidoscope of cell types. Credit: Martin Nowak, Bartek Waclaw and Bert Vogelstein

The Evolution of New Cancer Treatments

Could Charles Darwin help us to fight cancer? The answer is an emphatic yes according to an Anglo-American team which today unveils eerily beautiful videos that model the evolution of a tumour in three dimensions.

In one set of computer simulations, a rogue cell blooms into a kaleidoscope of cell types, then melts away when treated with a cancer drug, only to blossom once again with renewed vigour into deadly and malignant masses of billions of cells.

A rogue cell blooms into a kaleidoscope of cell types. Credit: Martin Nowak, Bartek Waclaw and Bert Vogelstein

A rogue cell blooms into a kaleidoscope of cell types. Credit: Martin Nowak, Bartek Waclaw and Bert Vogelstein

Cancer is marked by a breakdown of cooperation between cells in the body, when one of the body’s 200 or so cell types develops mutations – changes in their DNA – that put the cell’s own interests above the greater good of the body.

By shrugging off the controls that keep the rest of our body in check, tumour cells divide willy-nilly, picking up new genetic changes along the way so they can evolve to resist drugs, or grow faster, for example. As a result, even a single tumour can contain utterly different genetic mutations in the cells at one end, compared with cells at the other.

But because cancer cells are distorted versions of normal cells in the body, they are hard to target and destroy without causing damaging side effects. Because cancer is marked by its rapid growth doctors have, for example, used drugs that are toxic to all dividing cells in the body, causing side effects such as hair loss, nausea and so on.

Recent years have seen the development of drugs that target cancer cells with specific mutations. These drugs shrink tumours during the first months of treatment but the cancer cells often become resistant as new mutations help to outwit the drugs, and the disease returns.

Now the collaboration between Harvard, Edinburgh, and Johns Hopkins Universities has come up with a mathematical portrait of the evolution of solid tumours of the kind found in the breast, ovary or colon.

The new work, published today in the journal Nature, is a joint project by a team that includes Bartek Waclaw a physicist and computer wizard at Edinburgh, the distinguished cancer researcher Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins, and Martin Nowak, Director of Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, who has spent decades trying to put biology on a mathematical basis, along with his colleague in Harvard University, Ivana Bozic.

Although biologists traditionally complain that disease processes are too complex to boil down to mathematics, Nowak believes the new model can explain various features of cancer, from why cancer cells share a surprising number of mutations in common, to why tumours spread and become resistant to anti-cancer drugs.

The new mathematical model captures the complex way that DNA mutates in different tumour cells, which makes some cells more suited to the environment than others, and how cancer spreads. Until now, these have been modelled separately. “Most previous efforts counted the number of cells with particular DNA changes but not their spatial arrangement,” says Nowak. “Now we can model both the genetic evolution and the 3D growth of a cancer.”

One of the new insights to emerge is that cancer growth depends greatly on the ability of tumour cells to cells to divide if they have sufficient space. This means the tumour grows slowly unless cells are able to move to find enough room. “Cellular mobility makes cancers grow fast, and it makes cancers similar in the sense that cancer cells share a common set of mutations,” says Nowak. That, he thinks, is why drug resistance rapidly evolves.

In the video, similar colours denote similar mutations and – as the tumour grows – they remain clustered together, as also shown by experiment. Of the billions of cancer cells that exist in a patient, only a tiny percentage – about one in a million – are resistant to drugs used in targeted therapy. When treatment starts, the video shows how non-resistant cells are wiped out – but the few resistant cells quickly repopulate the cancer.

There is another insight to emerge from focusing on cell movements within the tumour: they go on to evolve the ability to spread throughout the body, to metastasize, which is usually what makes cancer deadly. Nowak says: “The ability to form metastases is a consequence of selection for local migration, that is Darwinian processes favour cells with the ability to move around the body.”

These insights, which are a ‘beautiful confirmation of what is seen in experiments,’ do not provide a ‘miraculous cure,’ said Bartek Waclaw, “However, they do suggest possible ways of improving cancer therapy.”  The video shows how cancer cells switch to a state when they can deform and move around and, he says, treatments that hinder these small movements of cancerous cells could help to slow progress of the disease.

The attempts through history to understand and combat diseases such as cancer can be found in the Science Museum’s medicine collections, which contain over 140,000 objects. The museum is now developing major new Medicine Galleries to showcase thousands of objects with initial leadership funding from the Wellcome Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Wolfson Foundation.

The galleries will open in 2019, transforming much of the first floor of the Museum. In preparation, Glimpses of Medical History and The Science and Art of Medicine will close on 20th September. However, you will still be able to see highlights from the collection in a new exhibition, Journeys Through Medicine: Henry Wellcome’s Legacy, opening on Thursday 1st October. Further items can also be seen at the Wellcome Collection and explored online via our Brought to Life: exploring the history of medicine. These collections are of enduring interest because medicine is where science collides with life.

By Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs and coauthor with Martin Nowak of SuperCooperators, Beyond the Survival of the Fittest: why Cooperation, Not Competition, is the Key of Life

Pair of wooden roller skates, c. 1880

Wonderful Things: Roller Skates, 1880

Becky Honeycombe from our Learning Support Team writes about one of her favourite Science Museum objects.

You could be forgiven for thinking the heyday of the roller skate was in the 1980s with leg warmers and neon Lycra being the order of the day.  The truth is that there was a craze just as big a hundred years earlier and we have a pair of Victorian skates in our Making the Modern World Gallery as evidence.

By 1880, roller skates of some kind had already been around for over 150 years.  The first prototypes of the roller skate are said to have been created by an anonymous Dutchman in the early 1700s, who as a fan of winter skiing wanted to extend his hobby into the summer months.  He created his ‘skeelers’ by attaching wooden spools to strips of wood and then nailing them to his shoes. The first recorded use of roller skates in Britain was not until 1743 when they were used as part of a London stage show.

One of the most famous early appearances of roller skates occurred in 1760 when inventor Joseph Merlin rolled into a masquerade party playing a violin.  Although his entrance was undoubtedly dramatic, it wasn’t a complete success as he only managed to stop by crashing into a huge mirror, breaking not only the mirror, but his violin and several of his bones too.

Over the next century, several different designs for roller skates were created and tested.  Many were heavy and difficult to control and it was not until 1863 that the quad skate we know today was designed by James Leonard Plimpton in New York.  The ease with which the new skates allowed users to manoeuvre them made them an instant success and Plimpton opened New York’s first skating rink in his furniture store before expanding to a bigger venue like the one in the picture below.

District of Columbia, glimpses of life at the national capital – a fashionable roller-skating rink
Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, USA

By the end of the 1800s, skates like the ones in our gallery, were being mass produced, which meant they were cheaper and more readily available.  Roller skating became a popular leisure activity and regular skating endurance competitions were held. London businessmen could even be seen skating to work! The sport’s popularity continued to grow into the 20th century where its success as a mainstream pastime is demonstrated in early films such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Rink.  Today, with new skate designs like the Land Roller and sports such as roller derby gaining large followings, it is clear that the popularity of the roller skate continues.

Do you think your favourite hobbies will stand the test of time?

This object is currently on display in the Making the Modern World gallery.

The Design Museum stairs.


We love using Instagram to see the stunning photos you take and to share our own photos of the collections, exhibitions and behind-the-scenes at the Museum.

#EmptyScienceMuseum images from (clockwise from top left) @mattscutt, @londonlivingdoll, @peppyhere & @sciencemuseum

#EmptyScienceMuseum images from (clockwise from top left) @mattscutt, @londonlivingdoll, @peppyhere & @sciencemuseum

But this week we’ll be doing something a little different. Together with nine other museums in London, we’re celebrating each other’s collections and museums on Instagram. After being sorted into pairs, each museum visited its pair to photograph interesting things and spaces.

This week we’ll share our photos of the Design Museum, offering a unique perspective of the museum, exhibitions and collections through our Instagram account.

The Design Museum stairs.

The Design Museum stairs.

To see all the photos and discover what fascinating things we found in each other’s museums just follow #MuseumInstaSwap on Instagram (and Twitter).

The museums and their pairings:

Want to join us?
You and other museums can take part in #MuseumInstaSwap this weekend (29-30 August). We’ve teamed up with CultureThemes and would love to see what you think should be in a museum and those museum objects that you would like to take home. Visit CultureThemes to find out more.

Nobel Prize winner Neils Ryberg Finsen and the therapeutic benefits of sunlight

Jack Mitchell, the Science Museum’s Assistant Curator of Medicine, takes his cue from the summertime and explores the Sun’s great influence in the history of medicine.

The summer holidays are now in full flow, and many people will be looking to top up their tans and bronze their skin at some point during their vacation. The health messages we receive about being skin and sun aware are well established, and for good reason we should all display caution when out in the sun in order to reduce the risks of developing skin cancer.

It may then surprise you to know that in early 20th century Europe sunlight was in fact being heralded as a new, progressive medical therapy that had numerous positive health benefits. Whether it was via natural means- Heliotherapy- or via artificial methods- Phototherapy- the medical profession held up light as a powerful and triumphant form of treatment.

Silhouette of a nude woman leaping in a sunburst © Wellcome Library, London

Silhouette of a nude woman leaping in a sunburst © Wellcome Library, London

The curative potential of light and its discovery as a revolutionary “new” treatment had its foundations in the pioneering work of 19th century bacteriologists such as Arthur Downes, Thomas Blunt and Robert Koch. Their published works demonstrated the antibacterial properties of light, and as such opened up the field of light therapeutics as a scientifically justified and potentially ground-breaking area of medical treatment.

The ability of light to destroy tuberculosis bacillus, and potentially aid in the treatment of illnesses such as lupus and pulmonary tuberculosis was a particularly exciting medical discovery, especially considering the prevalence of the disease within contemporary industrialised society, and its resistance to most forms of treatment.

Front cover for booklet advertising Peps tablets © Wellcome Library, London

Front cover for booklet advertising Peps tablets © Wellcome Library, London

However, the increased medicalisation of light and its transfer from a handful of specifically located, sun drenched, natural sanatoriums (heliotherapy), to the automated and controlled arena of a hospital, relied heavily on the ability to artificially harness UV rays (phototherapy). This was achieved thanks to the pioneering work of Danish physician Neils Ryberg Finsen, who in 1894 developed his eponymous lamp for the treatment of tuberculosis of the skin (lupus vulgaris).

Plate LXVI, Lupus vulgaris from Prince Albert Morrow, 1889 © Wellcome Library, London

Plate LXVI, Lupus vulgaris from Prince Albert Morrow, 1889 © Wellcome Library, London

Alongside the physical development of the apparatus, Finsen opened a Medical Light Institute in Copenhagen, which researched the impact of the therapy and the efficacy of light as a treatment in general. The institute was part funded by the Danish state; a symbol of the importance placed upon this new therapy and how readily it was accepted as a progressive new treatment with significant medical potential.

Finsen’s lamp used telescopic arms to mimic the beneficial effects of the sun and focus the remedial properties of UV light onto an infected area of skin. His process achieved remarkable results and earned him worldwide notoriety, including the support and patronage of fellow Dane, Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII, whilst she was Princess of Wales. Alexandra presented a lamp to the London Hospital in 1900, and thus helped establish a light therapy department within the UK. This lamp is now part of the Science Museum’s collection. Finsen’s work was further recognised in 1903, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Set of apparatus devised by N.R. Finsen for treating lupus © Wellcome Library, London

Set of apparatus devised by N.R. Finsen for treating lupus © Wellcome Library, London

Finsen’s ground-breaking work, and the positive results it achieved in treating tuberculosis of the skin, did much to sow the seeds for light therapies acceptance within both medical and popular society, and solidify its reception as a regenerative medical cure. The zenith of light therapies popularity came in the 1920’s/30’s, when numerous tanning apparatus’ were sold to the domestic market in a heavily glamorized manner.

A 'Homesun' solarium advertisement, 1939 © Science Museum / SSPL

A ‘Homesun’ solarium advertisement, 1939 © Science Museum / SSPL

Leaflet for the "Vi-Tan" ultra-violet home unit © Wellcome Library, London

Leaflet for the “Vi-Tan” ultra-violet home unit © Wellcome Library, London

Upon being awarded his Nobel Prize, it was commented that Finsen deserved the “eternal gratitude of suffering humanity”, yet his lamp was gradually phased out upon the discovery of antibiotics. Although light therapy is still used today, notably for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the negative impact of excess UV light on skin creates a challenging tension with its notion as a universally healing force. A very ambiguous impression of light within a medical sphere therefore emerges; to one which simultaneously emphasises its benefits, whilst also warning us of the deleterious effects of over exposure.

A scene from the Mallard 3D Experience. Credit: Metropolis entertainment

Sharing Mallard’s moment in time

How do you turn a well-known historical event into a 3D motion ride? Bob Gwynne, Associate Curator at the National Railway Museum explains more. 

On 3 July 1938, the A4 class locomotive Mallard raced down Stoke Bank at 126mph to set a new world speed record. Mallard is the world’s fastest steam locomotive, an icon of the National Railway Museum and a symbol of 1930′s Britain when speed records made headlines. It’s record-breaking run is surely an exciting subject for a 3D motion film and interesting for those who know nothing about the story to those who wished they’d been there.

Mallard's record-breaking crew. Credit © National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

Mallard’s record-breaking crew. Credit © National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

Plenty is known about the Mallard run. The National Railway Museum holds lots of pictures of Mallard as well as pictures of the crew, Driver Joe Duddington in his trademark flat cap, Fireman Tommy Bray grinning with his bulging arm muscles and Inspector Sam Jenkins with his piercing look. We therefore had plenty of information to make a motion ride experience full and enjoyable, and after all if 15th Century Venice can be modelled for a computer game why not the east coast main line in the 1930’s?

A scene from the Mallard 3D Experience. Credit: Metropolis entertainment

A scene from the Mallard 3D Experience. Credit: Metropolis entertainment

Whilst the landscape, tunnels and bridges have not changed (much), the stations on the route of the record run have mostly disappeared, as have the signals. The track layout has also been altered. Finding a picture of Little Bytham station of the right period swiftly turned into finding any picture of Little Bytham that was good enough to model what the driver saw when Mallard broke the world speed record.

Exactly what did the bridges and tunnels look like? A need for good photographs of the route was crucial and initial searches of the National Railway Museum’s massive database of images provided very little. Fortunately the Search Engine research centre at the National Railway Museum is the best resource for studying railway history, and if there wasn’t an image in the database, there were good reference images in books and articles about the route.

One other issue was Mallard itself. Nigel Gresley, the locomotive’s architect, designed Mallard and his A4 Pacifics so that they ran smoothly at high-speed – they were no roller coaster ride. In fact A4’s were so smooth running that they were retro fitted under the fireman’s seat with a form of speedometer that provided a paper trace of each journey. This spy in the cab was so that Driver’s could be warned about parts of the route where they had been speeding when they got back to the shed. This would make for a boring and not very bumpy motion ride, so to compensate the film developers went for a fly-through the locomotive at speed and filmed scenes from outside the locomotive to add interest for the audience.

So from careful research, Mallard’s record run was re-created in an animated 3D film. The landscape, stations, locomotive and crew all get their moment of fame.

Experience Mallard 3D at the Science Museum in London or at the National Railway Museum in York.

Lots of volunteers for the 'It Takes Guts' show

A ‘Day at the Museum’ with Google

How do you inspire the next generation of scientists?

This was just one of the many questions that Google set out to answer this summer with help from the Science Museum’s Outreach and Resources Team.

The Outreach team usually works outside the Museum, but for four days in June we were based inside and put on a ‘Day at the Museum’ event which was sponsored by Google. 600 children aged 10-11 from 12 schools across the capital came to visit us, and were treated to a jam-packed day of science activities.

Lots of volunteers for the ‘It Takes Guts’ show

The children started their day all together, watching the ‘It Takes Guts’ show; an interactive science show all about the Digestive system. Here they got to experience the journey our food takes once it enters our mouths, and answer some of those burning questions, like “why is our poo brown?”. Having been thoroughly entertained and a little ‘grossed out’ they headed off to their other activities.

The grand finale to the digestive system journey!

The grand finale to the digestive system journey!

In the News and Views workshop, the children got the chance to become science reporters, working in teams to create an article based around an open question on a science topic. To start the workshop we asked the children what came to mind when they thought of scientists, and as you can imagine, many of the answers centred around lab coats, goggles and ‘crazy hair’.

We then challenged these perceptions by introducing real scientists (none of whom were wearing labcoats, and all with perfectly nice hair), who came to present the research they are working on.

The children are interested to find out more from Neuroscientist Anita

The children are interested to find out more from Neuroscientist Anita

Neuroscientist Anita spoke about her research into links between attention in children and video games. Ask any room of year 6 pupils about video games and I guarantee the majority will be instantly in favour. After listening to Anita however, they began to think more critically, and started to identify pro’s and con’s to put into their articles. The sessions also gave the children a chance to learn some interesting science that wouldn’t have been covered in the classroom, such as seeing first hand the effects capsaicin (the active ingredient in chillis) had on their teachers!

The students begin to build their article, on the topic of antibiotic resistance

The students begin to build their article, on the topic of antibiotic resistance

A trip to the Museum however would not be complete without visiting some of our galleries. The students got the chance to try out some science experiments for themselves using the interactive exhibits in Launchpad.

Working in a team to build your own bridge! One of teh many ways science is explored interactively in Launchpad

Working in a team to build your own bridge! One of the many ways science is explored interactively in Launchpad

They also explored some of our amazing objects that shaped the history of science, as part of the Great Object Hunt in Making the Modern World and our new Information Age galleries.

Hunting for some science treasures in the Making the Modern World gallery

Hunting for some science treasures in the Making the Modern World gallery

At the end of the day we bid farewell to the children, who left with smiles on their faces and also a goody bag of science museum trinkets, including a ‘Golden Ticket’ for themselves and their families to come back again and see a film in our IMAX cinema.


Thanks Google and the Science Museum!

When asking the children in the News and Views workshop what a scientist is, one child answered “it’s just someone who really likes science and finding out about the world”. Hopefully the children who visited us went home having not only had a brilliant experience at the museum, but also all sharing the view that science is a vast and interesting field, where there really is something for everyone.

Medicine Galleries objects © Science Museum

A new era for medicine at the Science Museum

10th December 1980 was a big day for the Science Museum. With the opening of a new floor showcasing the history of medicine – Glimpses of Medical History – we changed from a museum of the physical sciences and of technology, to one that also embraced medicine and biomedical research. This gallery provided a visual feast of dioramas and room sets showing medical instruments and techniques in context – from medieval medicine preparation to battlefield surgery.

A diorama from the Glimpses of Medical History gallery. © Science Museum

A diorama from the Glimpses of Medical History gallery. © Science Museum

A year later, on 18th December 1981 another new gallery on another new floor followed. The Science and Art of Medicine displayed a treasure trove of historic objects relating to health and the practice of medicine – from folk remedies to the world’s first stethoscope.

What led us to that point was the 1976 transfer of the extraordinary collection of Sir Henry Wellcome on permanent loan from the Wellcome Trust to the Science Museum. A century earlier, in the 1870s American businessman Henry Wellcome had begun to collect things relating to all aspects of medicine and human health. He found the topic so vast and varied that he could never find its limits. By his death in 1936 he’d amassed so many things that they filled several warehouses and ‘the strangest museum in the world’ – the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum at 54a Wigmore Street, London.

Wellcome Museum - ‘the strangest museum in the world’  © Wellcome Library, London

Wellcome Museum – ‘the strangest museum in the world’ © Wellcome Library, London

The custodianship of Wellcome’s collection and the creation of the Science Museum’s first galleries devoted to medicine invigorated our collecting in this area. The Science Museum’s medicine collections now contain over 140,000 objects with major acquisitions since 1976 including the Roehampton Collection of prosthetic limbs (see image below), the world’s first MRI scanner and the operating table on which King George VI had lung surgery.

Pair of artificial legs, used by a child affected by the drug thalidomide. © Science Museum

Pair of artificial legs, used by a child affected by the drug thalidomide. © Science Museum

And now a new era beckons.

We are developing major new Medicine Galleries to showcase thousands of objects from our medicine collections for the next generation. Thanks to leadership funding from the Wellcome Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Wolfson Foundation, these six new galleries will open in 2019, transforming much of the first floor of the Museum and putting the history of medicine and biomedical research at the heart of the Science Museum. In preparation for this major redisplay Glimpses of Medical History and The Science and Art of Medicine will close to the public on Sunday 20th September.

Medicine Galleries objects © Science Museum

Objects for the new Medicine Galleries © Science Museum

We will be busy conserving many of our objects ready for the new galleries, but while this is happening you’ll still be able to see highlights from the collection in a new exhibition, Journeys Through Medicine: Henry Wellcome’s Legacy, opening on Thursday 1st October. Further items from the collections can also be seen at the Wellcome Collection in Bloomsbury and explored online via our Brought to Life: exploring the history of medicine website.

And if you do feel a pang of nostalgia for the galleries we are closing we’re excited to reveal that our friends at Google have used their Street View technology to capture them for posterity. Later this year you’ll be able to take a virtual tour and explore the objects in more detail when the imagery is live online at the Google Cultural Institute.

#EmptyScienceMuseum photo by Science Museum


Communications Assistant Ellie Blanchette blogs on what happens when you invite a talented group of Instagrammers to photograph an empty Science Museum.

From pictures of pugs dressed as dinosaurs, to beautiful, jealousy-inducing shots of far-flung travel destinations, Instagram provides a brilliant platform for creating and discovering the images and lives of people from all over the world. It is also a great way for people to meet offline, as the popularity of ‘Instameets’ (events specifically for those who use Instagram to meet and take pictures), prove.

Over the past year or so, museums and galleries from around the world have been opening their doors outside of opening hours to Instgrammers, and the results have been stunning.  Known as #emptymuseum, these events were pioneered by Instagrammers themselves.

We too have opened our doors early.

#EmptyScienceMuseum images from (clockwise from top left) @mattscutt, @londonlivingdoll, @peppyhere & @sciencemuseum

#EmptyScienceMuseum images from (clockwise from top left) @mattscutt, @londonlivingdoll, @peppyhere & @sciencemuseum

The Instragrammers we invited to the Museum saw our current Media Space exhibition, Revelations: Experiments in Photography and were given a tour of some of the art in our collection, from Anthony Gormley’s Iron Baby, to Thomas Heatherwick’s Material’s House (click here for more art to explore on your visit).

Each person took on the challenge of Instagramming the galleries and objects on display differently, finding new perspectives of objects, old staircases or other features which can go unnoticed during our busy opening hours. The Instagrammers have shared all their photographs so far here.

You can follow the Science Museum on Instagram here. To join a future #EmptyScienceMuseum tour, please email with why you would like to join a tour and a little information about yourself.

Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford (in foreground) and Cosmonaut Alexey A. Leonov make their historic handshake in space on July 17, 1975. © NASA

How do you like your coffee, comrade?

By Doug Millard, Senior Curator, Cosmonauts exhibition. 

Forty years ago today (17 July) the Soviet Union and the United States shook hands in space during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project – the first time the two space superpowers had collaborated on a space mission. The Soviet director of the project – Konstantin Bushuyev – reckoned the only significant difference of opinion between the two teams had been that his American opposite number – Glynn Lunney, “drinks black coffee and I drink mine with cream”.

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project: An Orbital Partnership Is Born. © NASA

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project: An Orbital Partnership Is Born. © NASA

Of course there had been plenty of disagreements and arguments over the three years of intense planning and negotiation required for the mission. Each side had to learn about the other’s spacecraft; how Soyuz and Apollo worked, how they could be joined together in space and what new techniques and systems would need to be developed to do this. And there was the language problem; how to accommodate two teams that spoke different languages. In the early days it had not been easy:

American Translator: Good evening!
Soviet Party: Hello!
American Translator: This is the Manned Spacecraft Center speaking. May we speak to Professor Bushuyev?
Soviet Party: Hello!
American Translator: Hello, can you hear me?
Soviet Translator: I hear you well.
American Translator: Good! This is the MSC NASA USA, may we speak to Professor Bushuyev?
Soviet Party: Professor Bushuyev to the telephone? I will ask him.
American Translator: Oh! That is you.
Soviet Party: Yes.

The Apollo crew – Tom Stafford, Deke Slayton and Vance Brand – were given intensive courses in Russian and Alexei Leonov and Valeri Kubasov, their Soyuz crew-mates, were each assigned a personal English tutor. Stafford, veteran commander of the Apollo 10 mission around the Moon, put his newly acquired command of Russian to good use one July 4 evening at the cosmonaut training facility near Moscow. He and his astronaut colleagues had been letting off fireworks and crackers that “sounded like a machine gun”. To a suspicious policeman that approached he said “Dobryy vecher. Kak dela? Eto den?’ Nashey revolyutsii!” (Good evening. How are you? It is the day of our revolution!).

Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford (in foreground) and Cosmonaut Alexey A. Leonov make their historic handshake in space on July 17, 1975. © NASA

Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford (in foreground) and Cosmonaut Alexey A. Leonov make their historic handshake in space on July 17, 1975. © NASA

Leonov and Stafford’s handshake in orbit was transmitted around the world – the first time that Soviet citizens had seen live TV pictures of cosmonauts in space. Previous Soviet space missions had been reported mostly by radio and the newspapers – and then only once successfully underway or completed, or stitched together into films shown later at the cinema. While Soviet and American engineers and managers laboured over the technologies of joining two spacecraft in orbit the respective media teams had had to conduct long and protracted negotiations to ensure each side reported the mission to their own satisfaction.

Forty years on it may seem as though Apollo-Soyuz has become a footnote in space history, a one-off event that struggles against the dazzling space race of the 1960s. And yet, the mission demonstrated that two fundamentally different cultures could work together through a common language of space exploration. Twenty years later the US Space Shuttle docked for the first time with the Soviet’s Mir space station. And today the International Space Station continues to host astronauts and cosmonauts from around the world.  The vital agreement between the Russian and US space agencies for its operation has now been extended to run until 2024, despite political differences between the two nations.

Alexei Leonov recently visited the Science Museum as part of the launching ceremony for Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age. This major exhibition, which opens on 18 September 2015, will reveal the most significant collection of Russian spacecraft and artefacts ever to be shown in the UK. Leonov spoke proudly of his involvement in the Apollo-Soyuz project, a diversion from the Cold War that demonstrated how opponents could still work together. But he still chuckled mischievously when recalling how ‘Every day we spoke on Good Morning America’ as the Soviet passed overhead small town America.

The blog was first published on the Huffington Post. Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age opens on 18 September 2015, you can discover more about the exhibition and buy tickets here