Category Archives: Space

Science Museum launches Britain’s first official astronaut

By Roger Highfield and Doug Millard. Roger Highfield is Director of External Affairs at the Science Museum Group. Doug Millard is Deputy Keeper Technologies & Engineering and is currently leading on content for a major new exhibition of Russian space exploration opening in 2014.

The Science Museum has welcomed many astronauts and cosmonauts over the years and each time our visitors have been spellbound. Today, we witnessed the announcement of Briton Tim Peake’s mission to visit the International Space Station, ISS.

Tim Peake will be the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station.

Tim Peake will be the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station. Image: BIS

Peake (who tweets as @astro_timpeake), will join Expedition 46 to the ISS, and will be carried aloft by a Soyuz mission in November 2015.

His selection by the European Space Agency was announced to the world’s media in the Science Museum’s IMAX at an event introduced by Director Ian Blatchford.

Ian Blatchford, Science Museum Director (l) welcomes Tim Peake and Science Minister David Willetts (r) to the Museum. Image: Science Museum

Ian Blatchford, Science Museum Director (l) welcomes Tim Peake and Science Minister David Willetts (r) to the Museum. Image: Science Museum

Peake, who is based in the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, said  that he is ”absolutely delighted” and saw the mission as the culmination of everything he had worked for during his  career, though he admitted that he had misgivings about the disruption caused by moving his family – he has two young sons – to Houston.

However, he was not concerned about the risks of the mission, since his future career was ‘probably safer’ than past career as helicopter test pilot.

His tasks once in orbit will include helping to maintain the space station, operating its robotic arm and carrying out science experiments in Esa’s Columbus laboratory module, which is attached to the front of the 400-ton ISS complex.

Backdropped by a colourful Earth, this full view of the International Space Station was photographed from the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Backdropped by a colourful Earth, this full view of the International Space Station was photographed from the Space Shuttle Discovery. Credit: NASA/SSPL

Peake said that he hoped there would be space biomedicine experiments and that the UK scientific community would rise to the opportunities presented by microgravity experiments.

“Major Tim” told the press conference that in preparation for this challenge he had lived in a Sardinian cave for a week, flew on what is popularly known as a ‘vomit comet’, has spent 12 days in Nasa’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations, an underwater base, and he has undergone training with Russian and American spacesuits so he will also be able to perform a spacewalk.

The recently returned ISS commander, Canadian Chris Hadfield, attracted a big following for his tweets, videos and songs from the platform which Peake said built a worldwide audience. However, Peake dashed any hopes of a pop video by admitting: ‘I do play the guitar but very badly.’

Peake hails from Chichester, and is the “first official British astronaut” for the European Space Agency, selected from 8000 candidates. Previous UK-born individuals who have gone into orbit have done so either through the US space agency (Nasa) as American citizens or on independent ventures organised with the assistance of the Russian space agency.

Tim Peake answers questions from the press at the Science Museum.

Tim Peake answers questions from the press at the Science Museum. Image: Science Museum

Thomas Reiter, a former astronaut and Director of ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Operations, congratulated Peake ‘It is a remarkable moment for your country. You all can be proud of Timothy.’ And Dr David Parker of the UK Space Agency said nothing inspires like human explorers at the final frontier.

David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, said that this mission is part of effort to rebalance the economy – the UK space industry is worth £9.1 billion to the economy – and pointed out that the space sector is growing by 8 per cent each year.

He added that the mission underlined the inspirational values of space – the ‘Apollo effect’ – and will encourage more young people to take up STEM (science, technology and maths) subjects at schools and universities. ‘I have high hopes it will interest a generation of students in science and technology.’

The minister said that the objects in the Science Museum are a reminder of the UK’s distinguished history in space exploration and that he is now looking into a competition for schools based on the mission to the ISS.

Tim Peake pictured with a space suit from the Exploring Space gallery. Image: Science Museum

Tim Peake pictured with a space suit from the Exploring Space gallery. Image: Science Museum

Prime Minister, David Cameron, commented:  “This is a momentous day, not just for Tim Peake but for Great Britain. Tim was picked for this historic role from over 8,000 applicants from around the world. I am sure he will do us proud.”

Helen Sharman was the first Briton to go into space in 1991 in a joint venture between a number of UK companies and the Soviet government and spent a week at the Mir space station.

Sharman spoke at a recent event at the museum to celebrate International Women’s Day. The museum has her space suit on display and, only a few weeks ago, she stood before her suit as she told leading figures in drama and theatre about her experiences in orbit.

The most experienced UK-born astronaut is Nasa’s Michael Foale, who completed long-duration missions to both the ISS and Mir.

Blue Marble

Apollo 17 – One last view of the Blue Marble

Forty years ago today, on 7th December 1972, Apollo 17 and three astronauts, Commander Eugene Cernan, Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans, and Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt, blasted into orbit. The three-day trip was to be the final mission of the US Apollo space programme, and forty years later, humans are still to leave low earth orbit to return to the Moon.

Launch of the Apollo 17 mission

This Saturn V rocket carrying astronauts Eugene Cernan (Commander), Ronald Evans (Command Module pilot) and Harrison Schmitt (Lunar Module pilot), lifted off from the Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 7th December 1972.
Credit © National Aeronautics & Space Administration / Science & Society Picture Library

The Apollo 17 crew carried out many scientific experiments and broke several records – the longest time in lunar orbit, longest extravehicular activities on the lunar surface and the largest lunar sample return – as well as producing one of the most iconic and widely distributed photographic images in history: the Blue Marble.

Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt collecting samples

Schmitt is seen collecting Moon samples by a large lunar boulder, with part of the Lunar Rover in the foreground.
Credit © National Aeronautics & Space Administration / Science & Society Picture Library

Five hours into the Apollo 17 mission, the crew looked back at the Earth, some 45,000 km away, to capture this famous image. The photograph is one of only a few to show a fully illuminated Earth – the Sun was behind the astronauts when the image was captured – and to the crew, our planet appeared like a glass marble, hence the name. 

Blue Marble

This picture, known as Blue Marble, was taken by the crew of Apollo 17, NASA’s last manned lunar mission, on their way to the Moon in December 1972.

Aspiring astronauts of all ages have plenty of opportunities to see iconic space objects when visiting the Museum: A sample of Moon rock, brought back with Apollo 15 is on display in our exploring space gallery, with the Apollo 10 Command module – complete with re-entry scorch marks – on display in Making the Modern World.

Apollo 10, carrying astronauts Thomas Stafford, John Young and Eugene Cernan, was launched in May 1969 on a lunar orbital mission as the dress rehearsal for the actual Apollo 11 landing.
Image Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Families can celebrate the 40th anniversary of the last man to walk on the moon with the Legend of Apollo 4D Experience. Feel the impact of a Saturn V rocket launch and join the ground-breaking Apollo mission crew through NASA film archives and 3D computer animation. Legend of Apollo is suitable for ages 4+, flights take off throughout the day and can be booked here.

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Felix Baumgartner, with the Apollo 10 Command Capsule at the Science Museum

Felix Baumgartner drops into Science Museum

On a Sunday afternoon in October, Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner had just seconds to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime view, before stepping off his capsule and reaching supersonic speeds as he fell into the void.

Twenty four miles and a little over five minutes after leaving the capsule, Felix was back on Earth, having broken the sound barrier and reached speeds of up to 834 mph as part of the Red Bull Stratos project.

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Today Felix visited the Science Museum where he told the museum’s Roger Highfield how, with only 10 minutes of oxygen remaining, he had just a few seconds to enjoy the majestic view of his home world before continuing with the mission protocol. Felix also talked about the first few terrifying moments, when he spun out of control in the near-vacuum conditions.

Taking time out of his busy schedule, Felix took a quick tour, starting with the Making the Modern World gallery, the museum’s ‘greatest hits’ of modern science and technology, which includes the Apollo 10 Command capsule.

Felix Baumgartner, with the Apollo 10 Command Capsule at the Science Museum

Felix Baumgartner, with the Apollo 10 Command Capsule at the Science Museum

Stopping to admire the Apollo 10 capsule, Felix discussed the differences with his own capsule and took a special interest in Apollo’s battered heat shield – a testament to an achievement that seems greater today, in 2012, than it did in 1969.

Col. Joe Kittinger, the previous freefall record holder (r) with the Science Museum's Roger Highfield (l)

Col. Joe Kittinger, the previous freefall record holder (r) with the Science Museum's Roger Highfield (l)

Felix visited the museum with his mentor Joe Kittinger - an 84-year-old former U.S. Air Force colonel who set the previous freefall record in 1960 when he jumped from 102,800 feet. Joe was the “Capcom” (capsule communications) and primary point of radio contact for Felix Baumgartner during his remarkable mission.

An amazing astronaut

Space – as seen from our Launchpad gallery

Astronauts, rockets and multi-coloured stars – visitors to our Launchpad gallery seem to have space on the brain.

Here’s a small selection of their space-inspired artwork – click on any image to see bigger pictures.

Andromeda Illustrated Graphic


Read the third post from our Space Curator Doug Millard as he talks about the mind-boggling Andromeda galaxy – one of the destinations on our Space trail.

Andromeda Illustrated Graphic

A few years ago we moved house from the light-polluted night skies of London to the darker zones of leafy Bromley. At the time comet Hale Bopp was resplendent (actually, we could see it in Wandsworth as well!) and as is often the way, a dormant interest in amateur astronomy resurfaced.

I started scanning the heavens with binoculars and telescope. I think Jupiter was up and I remember how amazed I was realising that the little points of light nearby were his large Moons: Io, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. You could even see them move over a period of an hour or two!

But then my attention was drawn to a little puff of light in the north-eastern sky, no more than a smudge. I needed to search for this with the binoculars but if we had moved to the Atacama Desert instead of Bromley then the naked eye would have done the trick. It was the Andromeda galaxy. Absolutely amazing. Mind boggling.

There, in the little whiff of white sat an entire galaxy of stars – about ONE Trillion of them. How many planets?! How much life? What sort of life? It gets better. The weak light that reaches our retinas from Andromeda is very, very old; 25,000 years old. We are seeing Andromeda as it was when we were frozen up in the last ice age, it has taken that long for the light to travel to Earth. So, in other words, Andromeda is a very long way away indeed: fifteen million, million, million miles – give or take a few. You know, there are some things that put life into a whole new perspective.

Don’t forget you can still come on our space trail, you just need to collect a passport and follow the clues. In the mean time why not create your own postcard from space and send it to your friends and enter our competition to win a trip to Cité des Sciences in Paris.

Science Museum Spaceship Illustration

Exploring Space – Spaceships

Read our Space curator Doug’s second guest post where he talks about the second stage of our Space trail and discusses his favourite object in the Museum.

Science Museum Spaceship Illustration

One of my favourite objects in the Museum? The Apollo 10 command module, of course – what else could the space curator say? Its current display rather underplays its remarkable story: what it did, how it did it, why it is the shape it is and why it is that strange colour of cold tea.

Well, first things first: it is a REAL spaceship and – yes – it has actually been in space. In fact it has visited another world – our Moon. This isn’t a model or a replica – it’s the real thing. In May 1969 it carried three men – Tom Stafford, Gene Cernan and John Young – all the way to the Moon and back. When they were there the crew did everything but land – Apollo 10 was the dress rehearsal for the landing mission of Apollo 11, two months later.

The Apollo 10 command module (call sign Charlie Brown) was attached to a cylindrical service module, full of supplies and systems, and then docked to the lunar lander or module (call sign Snoopy).

All had been launched in the titanic Saturn V rocket, as tall as St Paul’s Cathedral in London and as powerful as a small atomic bomb. In lunar orbit Stafford and Cernan climbed through the docking hatch and into the lunar module, leaving Young behind in Charlie Brown. They flew down close to the Moon’s surface and then back up to rejoin Young having successfully tested the vital computing and radar systems.

The three then ditched Snoopy and the service module before hurtling back to Earth at 24,791 miles per hour (an all-time record). So, this museum object has many, many stories to tell … and we haven’t even begun to explain who built it, why it looks the way it did and how it worked. Another time…

Don’t miss Doug’s next post where he talks about the third part of our space trail Andromeda. You can find out more about our space trail and if you enter our competition you could win a trip to Paris. Good luck!

Space Trail

Intrepid space pioneers

Last week we welcomed a group of intrepid space pioneers into the Museum to try out our new space trail which opened to the public on Saturday.

They were a group of family bloggers and their kids who came along to try out the trail and review it for us. You can read reviews from, Mum in Meltdown, Mummy from the Heart, Thinly Spread, and the Life and Times of a Household Husband on their blogs and see wee what the kids had to say about it themselves below.

Our space explorers were eager to tell us  their favourite part of the trail, Cavan’s favourite bit was Asteroid in our Launchpad gallery ‘when we did all the hands on stuff ‘ and Alex’s was ‘looking at the real Apollo 10’s spaceship’ in Making The Modern World Gallery

The kids in our Launchpad gallery

The kids in our Launchpad gallery

Kaede and Jacob would both like to live on ‘the Moon’ if they could pick any of the destinations on our trail and Kaede wants to be ‘the last person to walk on it.’

We also asked our space travellers who they would most like to meet if they went to space again. Kaede is hoping for green, kind aliens ‘who will like to eat human food, and have 4 eyes and 10 arms’ and Cavan would like to meet ‘Neil Armstrong on Pluto’

The kids listening to the drama character

The kids listening to the drama character

Finally we wanted to know what the best thing they had learnt was and the answer was pretty much unanimous. The arcane mysteries of going to the loo in space were what really got them going. In the words of Cavan: ’I learned a lot of things but my favourite was learning that Buzz Aldrin was the first to wet his pants on the moon.’

Find out more about the space trail.

Anvilled Stars

Anvilled Stars

Artworks, made from meteorites that landed on Earth 6,000 years ago, are now on show in the museum’s Cosmos & Culture and Measuring Time galleries

Anvilled Stars

Created by artist Matthew Luck Galpin using his blacksmith skills – heating, hammering, grinding and polishing – the mirrors are made from iron meteorites that fell in Northern Argentina approximately 6,000 years ago.

The impact was witnessed by the local people, in a place now called The Field of Heaven or Campo Del Cielo. The meteorites fell to Earth after an unimaginable journey through heat and cold, light and darkness. The artist’s making process echoes the formation of the planets, pulled together by heat, gravity and rotation, continuing the meteorites’ journey.

Matthew Luck Galpin said, “Working these iron meteorites and mirroring their trajectory, I feel closer to belonging to their journey through space and time, reaching a point of reflection of our part in it all. I have long been inspired by astronomy and cosmology and am delighted to be exhibiting this work here at the Science Museum amongst the significant and amazing objects and instruments that were invented and designed to help us explore and understand the universe over many centuries.”

The Anvilled Stars are on display at the Science Museum until 30 October 2011.

The Moon

Exploring Space – The Moon

With less than a week before our Space trail opens our curator Doug Millard is here to tell us about the six destinations you will journey through and what you will see along the way.

Read Doug’s first post where he tells you about his own trip from SW7 London to Houston Texas where he journeyed to pick up a piece of the moon which you will see on the trails first destination – the Moon.

Not long ago I couriered a/the piece of Moon rock across the Atlantic to London SW7. My son and I flew to Houston, Texas (we didn’t have a problem) to collect it and bring it to the Museum

Its one small piece of almost half a tonne of rocks brought to Earth by the Apollo astronauts between 1969 and 1972. Our sample is part of one of the largest rocks collected: Great Scott, named after astronaut David Scott picked it up off the lunar surface on August 2nd, 1971 during the Apollo 15 mission.

How cool is that, but how difficult is it for us Earth-bound mortals to picture what the Moon is really like? Before going to the States I started to read up on the mission and in particular the EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity, which in this case combined Moon walking with driving the lunar rover) which Scott performed with his crew mate, the late Jim Irwin, when they collected this and other lunar specimens.

What gradually started to dawn on me was really, I mean REALLY how old the Moon is. How dead it is. How it’s blasted and pummelled landscape reflects hundreds of thousands of millennia of volcanic bombardment from within and meteoroid attack from without. Scott and Irwin drove, bounced and clumped over the dust and debris of eons.

The Great Scott rock had probably lain there where the astronaut found it for millions of years – since before humans became human. It was formed over 3 billions years ago – when life was little more than scatterings of single cells. If our night-sky neighbour could think, he might wonder what these upstart beings are up to – late arrivals at the party and already getting restless.

Don’t miss Doug’s next post where he talks about his favourite object in the museum and the spaceships that have taken astronauts like Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong into space!

Summer in Space

Spend your summer holiday in space

This summer, from 23 July – 31 August, we’re inviting families to spend their summer holiday in space.

Summer in Space

Our new space trial will take you past some of the gems of our space collection. See the original Apollo 10 Command Module – the capsule that travelled around the Moon as a dress rehearsal for the Moon landing. Plus you can see a full-sized replica of the Apollo 11 Lunar Lander that took astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon in 1969.

Kids can also play games about space tourism and decide if they would actually like to spend a holiday in outer space. They’ll collect some codes to grab a special souvenir at the end.

Another destination on the journey is our huge IMAX cinema. Immerse yourself in the incredible mission to service the Hubble space telescope in Hubble 3D, or witness the building of the International Space Station in Space Station 3D.

Find out all the things you never knew about what astronauts do and meet our Yuri Gagarin drama character, who’ll give his entertaining account of what it was like to be the first man in space exactly 50 years ago. You can find out more and plan your trip to space at

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay up to date on everything at the Museum. Check back for exclusive updates from our space curator Doug Millard.