Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Punk Science boys

Space Lates

Meet Jon, the man tasked with making Lates great.
Punk Science

Punk Science boys - Jon's on the left standing like a hero

He’s been working away on the programme for this month’s Space-themed Lates (Wednesday 27 April 6.45 – 10pm) but he’s taken a break to tell us what he’s got in store…

We’re all really excited about this Month’s Lates inspired by the Science of Space. The real star is Yuri Gagarin and most of what we’re running will have some sort of link to celebrate the anniversary of him being the first man in space 50 years ago.

We’ll have Gagarin himself (well an actor playing him) in on the night as well as amazing tour of the exploring Space gallery given by Senior Curator Doug Millard. I could listen to him talking about space the entire night, so it’s a shame I’ll busy working.

We also have a talk from Prof Ian Morison about the Russian domination of the space race. Chris Riley will be joining us to talk about his new documentary film “First Orbit” charting Gagarin’s epic journey around the earth, and he’ll be popping down to the Museum shop to sign copies of his book at 9.30pm. Also, in the shop this month will be Vix Southgate signing copies of her book on Yuri Gagarin.

There’s also a fantastic talk on space food in which there’ll be a chance to look at the real thing and taste some too.

Punk Science fans (all 2 or 3 of you) need not fret as they are back in action at this month’s Lates with more of the sort of stuff of that thing that they do. 

Only one Pub Quiz this time round so make sure you get there early.

Plus there’s tours galore including a look round the new gallery James Watt and our world, Who Am I? and Challenge of Materials

 PS This is sort of stuff of that thing that Punk Science do.

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Yuri Gagarin – Back to Earth

We left him in orbit but now it’s time to come back to Earth. Our own version of Yuri Gagarin is back to finish the story of his historic space flight.

Yuri Gagarin (c) RIA Novosti

Yuri Gagarin (c) RIA Novosti

Things are happening very quickly and already I must prepare for my return to earth. As I pass over Africa, the retro rockets begin to fire.

For 79 seconds, they slow me down, allowing gravity to drag me down once more into the clutches of the atmosphere.

Now the retro pack is jettisoned, twisting Vostok around as it goes and I begin to think of the people on earth. My parents, my wife – what will they think when they hear where I’ve been? I had to tell them a lie about a business trip. Ha - some business trip this is!

I am distracted from my thoughts by the twisting of the spacecraft. This should have stopped as soon as the retro pack was released, but something is obviously wrong. The cables that join the pack to the re-entry module are still attached and the two parts begin to spin around each other like children on a playground carousel.

There is a crackling sound as the heat builds up and I am pushed harder against my straps as the spinning increases. Will the heat shield cope with this unexpected turn of events? Will the cable break free? No one can tell me, as the hot atmosphere stops any radio signals from reaching me.

Then, bang! It’s gone. The heat of re-entry must have severed the cable.

The view begins to change, as the black of space becomes the purple, then the blue of the atmosphere. I am almost home. At 7000 metres I eject from the capsule and begin my final decent into the quiet countryside.

The ground rushes towards me. As I prepare for impact, I am aware or three pairs of eyes looking at me in fear and disbelief.

Bang! I hit the ground, rolling in the way I have been taught. The earth smells so good after the stale air inside of the spacecraft.

Gathering my parachute, I am aware once more of those eyes. They belong to a woman, a girl and a dappled cow and I quickly realise why they look so frightened. What a sight I must be to these poor people!

I try to put them at their ease. Taking off my helmet I say

‘I’m a friend comrades, a friend!’

The woman swallows hard.

‘Can it be that you have come from outer space?’

‘As a matter of fact . . . I have!’

My journey has been short - just 108 minutes - but the world will never be the same again.

We will be celebrating Yuri’s achievement all through the Easter holidays – check out our programme of special events.

Russian to Space show

Russian to Space show

Yuri Gagarin (c) RIA Novosti

Yuri Gagarin – The launch

Fifty years ago today Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Our version of the great man is here to blog about that life-changing lift-off…

Yuri Gagarin (c) RIA Novosti

Yuri Gagarin (c) RIA Novosti

The moment has come. The rocket is stood on the launch pad and I’m strapped tightly into my ejection seat.

On my headset I hear the voice of the Chief.

‘Yuri, 15 minute mark’.


There is no countdown.

The spacecraft is coming to life now as pumps begin to whirr and circuits click on. The conversation is professional, to the point.

‘Launch key to go position’.

‘Air purging’.

‘Idle run’.

And then . . .


In my imagination, the moment of launch would be obvious. But really, it is hard to tell if I have left the ground or not. There is a lot of noise, vibration and shaking but am I really on my way? Urging the spacecraft on as though it is a living thing I call out.

‘Let’s go!’

No doubt now, as I feel the rocket push me it the back. I am pushed harder and harder into my seat as I accelerate away from the earth. A voice again.

‘T plus 100. How do you feel?’

How do I feel? I feel good. I feel very good!

My heart misses a beat as the rocket seems to stop dead in the sky. The straps dig into my flesh and I am flung forward. For the briefest moment, I fear disaster but I realise that it is the boosters shutting down and separating from the rest of the rocket – I’m still on my way.

And now . . . orbit. I am in orbit! The motors have shut down and there’s the most amazing sensation – it’s not unexpected, but I am floating. Little pieces of dirt, a pencil, drift about and the straps of my harness float lazily in front of me. I report back.

‘I am weightless. It’s not unpleasant and I’m feeling fine.’

What a sight!

Looking through the window, the view takes my breath away. There is very little sensation of speed even though I know I am travelling at 28,000 km/h. The sea is the most beautiful blue and the clouds, so far bellow are tinged with pink from the setting sun. I must report! I try to be calm and collected for this is a serious business. But it’s hard not to show my excitement -

‘The flight continues well. The machine is functioning normally. Radio reception is excellent. Am carrying out observations of the earth.Visibility good, I can see the clouds, I can see everything. It’s beautiful!’

The Earth from space

The Earth from space (still from First Orbit film)

He’s gone up and now he must come down. Yuri will be back later today to finish the story in another blog post. In the meantime check out the Gagarin-related events in the Museum.

Yuri Gagarin (c) RIA Novosti

Getting ready for lift off

In the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the first man in space our very own version of Yuri Gagarin has blogged about how he was selected and trained for his mission.

Yuri Gagarin (c) RIA Novosti

Now, you’ve probably read books or seen films about the American space programme. You’ll know that their plans were announced in the press and ambitious military pilots tried desperately hard to get selected. That is the American way – but in the Soviet Union things are different.

One day, a mysterious group of people arrived at my air base. They interviewed pilots and then a few weeks later they returned and spoke to a smaller number of us. More probing questions but still we did not know what they wanted us for. Until the question–

‘Lieutenant Gagarin, how would you like to do something very different – a whole new type of flying?’

Now I knew! They wanted me to transfer to helicopters.

‘With respect comrade, I am a fighter pilot and would rather continue to fly fast jets.

‘We’re not talking about helicopters. Listen, how would you feel about flying in space?’

‘Oh . . . yes. Yes Comrade!’

So began my training – although sometimes torture might be a better word. The medical tests – x-rays, lights shone into the eyes, hammers to test reflex, probes in the ears, twisting, stretching…

Then there was the isolation chamber – a steel box with no windows, no clock, no books, no music, no night and day, nothing but work – and boredom. Our tormentors would change the temperature and pressure without warning or suddenly turn the lights on or off. Try ten days of that.

Oh, and the ‘maths’ tests. We would be given difficult maths problems to work out and as we struggled with the problems, a comforting calm and friendly voice whispered the answers into our headphones. The wrong answers of course.

And the centrifuge… A great spinning arm, with us on the end. As the arm went faster, we would be squashed further into our seats 2, 3, 4, –12 times normal gravity. Breathing hard, face twisted, eyes pulled open, heart pounding and blood as heavy as mercury. We knew that we had to endure all this with no complaint but a smile, if we were to get to space.

But it wasn’t all bad. At the end of all this we would be cosmonauts – space travellers. You see, our name for someone who goes into space is much better than the name that the Americans decided to use. Astronaut means star traveller and that’s nonsense. No one has ever travelled to a star and they never can.

Yuri will be back on 12 April to talk us through his incredible journey. You can also meet him in the Museum.

Decorating mechanical bugs

Launchpad Lates – March 2011

Ah Lates – the one night a month we stay open till 10pm and welcome crowds of the young and fun for a strangely successful blend of science and socialising. And silent disco of course…

This month the theme was the ‘Science of Launchpad’. Launchpad is one of our most-popular galleries, stuffed with interactive games that teach you about the laws of physics.

Check out the pictures to see what we all got up to:

My highlight of the evening was the talk by Prof Richard Wiseman, a psychologist and former magician who ruthlessly exposes how our preconceptions can make us see things that aren’t there, miss the blindingly obvious and believe in things that just aren’t true.

The paranormal was his target for the evening and he showed a selection of tricks that made me realise how easy it is to pull the wool over my eyes - watch the video and see if you’re as much of a mug as me.

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Due to time-table conflicts I tragically missed my chance to hurl Barbie across the room in the name of science. The Launch and Liberate Barbie event got people to build a contraption to chuck her as far from Ken as possible. I’d love to have seen it - did anyone get any pictures?

The next Lates is the 27 April and the theme is Space. We thought it might be nice to let someone else do the talking, so we’re looking for a guest blogger to write it up for us. Let us know if you fancy it.

Hope to see you all there…

Welcome to our new blog

Welcome to the brand new Science Museum Blog!

This is the place to come for fresh insights into everything that’s going on at the Science Museum – new galleries and exhibitions, events, arts projects and some of the juicy stuff that goes on behind the scenes…

You’ll be hearing from lots of different people, from inside and outside the Museum.

Hope you enjoy it…

P.S. If you’re thinking ‘but you already have a blog’ then you’re absolutely right. Our collections blog Stories from the Stores is getting on for two years old and still going strong.