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Science Fiction Trail

Inspired by Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination, explore some fascinating science fiction stories across the Science Museum.

Places you will visit: Exploring Space, Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, Science City 1550-1800: The Linbury Gallery, Information Age gallery, and The Secret Life of the Home gallery.

Beagle 2 Mars lander

Location: Exploring Space

A model of the Beagle 2 Mars lander, on display in the Science Museum.
A model of the Beagle 2 Mars lander, on display in the Science Museum

As well as traveling through time, science fiction stories also take us into space and beyond to other worlds. Back in the Exploring Space gallery you can see the Soyuz capsule which carried astronaut Tim Peake into space and back, the spacesuit warn by the first Briton in space, Helen Sharman, and also a full size model of the Beagle 2 lander, which travelled to Mars aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express in 2003.

Beagle 2 aimed to search the Martian soil and atmosphere for signs of carbon that would indicate life. Sadly Beagle never made contact after it was deployed and was declared lost.

In 2015, the spacecraft’s fate was revealed by photographs from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which showed Beagle 2 landed safely but failed to deploy two of its solar panels. These blocked its communications antenna and so it could not communicate with Earth.

Thankfully all was not lost as the innovations Beagle’s team made in miniaturising technology – especially the spacecraft’s gas analysis package – were adapted for future missions (and uses on Earth).

Before you leave the gallery, look out for the UFO hiding in one of the displays.

Jedi helmet

Location: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries

'Jedi' helmet, used with Cryogenic Magnetic Resonance Imaging Machine
‘Jedi’ helmet, used with Cryogenic Magnetic Resonance Imaging Machine

Take the lift or stairs to Level 1 and enter Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, there you will find our ‘Jedi helmets’. Inspired by the Jedi knights in Star Wars Return of the Jedi, they were named to encourage children (and adults) to wear the helmet during MRI scans and not be frightened.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) uses high frequency radio waves to build up a picture of the human body and help doctors diagnose illnesses. The copper coils on the helmets are aerials which can pick up the radio waves and improve the quality of the scan. MRI is often used as it does not expose the body to radiation, unlike when you have an X-ray. It’s also better than X-rays for studying the body’s internal organs.

These Jedi Helmets were used in an MRI machine at Hammersmith Hospital in the 1980s. That machine was the first of its kind installed in the UK and one of the longest serving MRI machines in the world. The machine was removed in 1992 and is now part of the Science Museum Group Collection.

Hooke’s Micrographia

Location: Science City 1550-1800: The Linbury Gallery

Plate from book Micrographia, by Robert Hooke, 1665 © Science Museum Group

In our Science City gallery, you can see a copy of Robert Hooke’s extraordinary book, Micrographia (look through the facsimile book for this drawing). Micrographia features intricately detailed drawings of creatures made using a microscope and represents the work of the Royal Society, which laid some of the foundation stones for modern science.

However, their work was not without criticism. Writer, poet, and natural philosopher Margaret Cavendish, a contemporary of Hooke and Newton, was the first woman admitted to Royal Society lectures and experiments. She’s also one of the earliest science fiction writers. Her book The Blazing World (1666) pokes fun at the work of Newton, Hooke and others, as its narrator travels to a distant world populated by intelligent animals, each with different skills: the spider-men are mathematicians, the bear-men are natural philosophers, and so on.

Eurostar 3000 satellite (and Arthur C Clarke’s scientific article)

Location: Information Age gallery

Eurostar 3000 satellite
Eurostar 3000 satellite

Arthur C Clarke is famous for his science fiction stories, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, but he was also a radar technician, inventor and futurist. He predicted many of the ways technology would change life in the future, including predicting in 1945 that satellites would broadcast television images around the world.

In this gallery you can see the scientific article written by Clarke proposing the use of geostationary satellites, and admire a Eurostar 3000 satellite which hangs above you. This successful telecommunications satellite carries two large black reflectors contoured to shape the broadcast signals to their targeted land areas.

Hoover Constellation

Location: The Secret Life of the Home gallery

Hoover constellation vacuum cleaner
Hoover constellation vacuum cleaner

Our tour ends in The Secret Life of the Home gallery on Level -1. Here you’ll spot a space age 1950s vacuum cleaner, the Hoover Constellation. It used exhaust air to make it hover, and with its futuristic spherical shape and fashionable colouring, the Constellation is truly a design classic among vacuums.

With the Space Race between the US and the Soviet Union capturing the population’s imagination this space-age-shaped, playfully designed vacuum cleaner fitted the futuristic aesthetic of the time. Find out more about the history of the humble vacuum cleaner in the gallery or in episode four of our podcast.

Venture to other worlds in the exhibition, Science Fiction: Voyage to the Edge of Imagination.