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The inspirational power of human spaceflight

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The heavens have been a subject of profound fascination for people since the dawn of human consciousness. The idea of humans venturing forth into space fired up the Cosmist movementin Russia more than a century ago.

This in turn inspired the architects of the Soviet space programme to put the first man and woman into space, Yuri Gagarin and then Valentina Tereshkova, who visited the Science Museum for the launch of our blockbuster exhibition, Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age.

To begin the countdown to the lift-off next month of Tim Peake, the UK’s first European Space Agency astronaut, the Museum recorded his #spacememory when he recalled how his lifelong fascination with human space flight began.

Recollections have been recorded for UK’s first astronaut, and cosmonaut, Helen Sharman; wit and thespian Stephen Fry; actresses Julia McKenzieMaureen Lipman, and MyAnna Buring; Cosmonauts curator Doug Millard; actress and former model Jerry Hall, bestselling author and geneticist Steve Jones; cosmonaut Claudie Haigneré; UK Space Agency’s Astronaut Flight Education Programme Manager, Libby Jackson; choreographer and director Arlene Phillips; and Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society.

There were many notable organisations who tweeted, such as the European Space Agency, Royal Society, Natural History Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester, and many notable individuals too from around the world, as you can see here (and below), who can recollect launches, comet impacts and fly-bys, eclipses and more.

Glasgow University engineering professor, Liz Tanner, talked of seeing John Glenn’s capsule in Rangoon as it toured the world, while actor and comedian Ben Miller declared, like many others, that it was “Apollo for me. Forget walking. We drove A CAR on the Moon” referring to the moon rovers.

Former Science Minister, Ian Taylor, like the Cosmists, had his eyes opened to the possibilities of space by Dan Dare. Times journalist Julia Brookes remembers splashing around in her Bleep and Booster paddling pool.

Kerrie Dougherty, Curator of Space Technology at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney reminisced about when she was a toddler, hearing about the first images of the far side of the moon, taken by the Soviet Luna 3 probe.

Matthew Cosby, Chief Engineer for Spacecraft Communications in the UK remembers watching the STS 1 mission at his primary school, when the Columbia space shuttle took off in 1981, and 16 years later worked on mission STS-81.

Johanna Kieniewicz of the Institute of Physics tweeted seeing Columbia land for the first time in 1981 (over 22 years of service, Columbia completed 27 missions before disintegrating during re-entry near the end of its 28th mission, STS-107 on 1 February 2003, a tragedy also recalled by some respondents.)

Finally, author Nick Booth was fired up by the Apollo 17 mission, which saw the last man on the moon.

As the Director of the Science Museum, Ian Blatchford, remarked: ‘Our curiosity about space is fundamental… everyone we talked to had something to say for our space memory project, whether about the impact of Sputnik or the moon landings.”

Tim Peake’s lift-off on December 15 from Baikonur will be celebrated with a series of events in the Science Museum, including BBC’s Stargazing Live, after his final press conference last week in the Museum.

Thank you to everyone who shared their #SpaceMemory.

Written by Science Museum

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