Review of 'Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age'


Ever since this exhibition was first announced I have wanted to visit to learn more about something that often we in the west know little about: The Russian space program. That and I am interested in anything to do with space…

Unsurprisingly the exhibit is organized in chronological order first with “Into the Cosmos” as an introduction to the exhibit and with reflections on the early 20th century Russian fascination with space including some amazing drawings by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in 1932 made for a Science Fiction film producer that shows in remarkable detail the issues involved with sending humans into space - airlocks and tethering of astronauts during space walks.

The next room is “Birth of the Space Age” where the Russians begin their race into space with Sputnik 1 being the first satellite put into orbit around the earth. We also learn here of Sergei Korolev who would, after his death in 1966, would be considered “The Great Designer” of the Russian space industry. Here there are “engineering models” from many of the probes that the Russians sent to other planets and the moon as well as a display on the animals that were first sent into space. A charming letter from a housewife to a radio station requesting that she be trained as a cosmonaut is also on display.

Next up is “Space Race” where we learn of the first human into space, Yuri Gagarin and the enthusiasm of the Russian people for the space program that this encouraged. We also learn of the first woman into space, Valentina Tereshkova, a textile-factory assembly worker and an amateur skydiver with a display including her Vostok 6 capsule and space garments.

“A Secret Programme” tells the secret history of the Russian's plan to send people to the moon before the Americans including the engineering model of the lunar lander (much smaller than the Apollo lander) as well as lunar roving vehicle that was to have been used.

“Outpost in Orbit” is all about the current Russian space programme including the practical aspects of space travel - Food, the current capsules used to send people into orbit, space suits (including one used in the “Mars 500” experiment in preparation for a manned Mars mission, another actually used in space walks that included the rocket pack and another that was used by the first British woman in space - Helen Sharman), toilets, emergency rations, etc.

The final room is more of a coda to the exhibit, “Space is Ours”, with really only this simple but powerful quote on the wall:

“Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever” (Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, 1911)

There are plaques throughout (in English) describing the exhibits but to fully experience the display I would recommend the audio guide (£4), narrated by the first British female astronaut, Helen Sharman, which really provides a lot of detail to the exhibits. The effort here is not to provide a completely exhaustive study of Russian space flight but rather to provide a good general overview and in this, it succeeds.

I found this exhibit absolutely amazing - I was only previously aware of only a tiny amount of the Russian space program and this really opened my eyes to just how advanced it was, and is. The exhibits are absolutely incredible and contained artefacts I never thought I would ever see. A must see for anyone interested in space and technology.


Review Date: 2016-02-12

Science Museum

Location: London (England)

Address: The Science Museum Exhibition Road South Kensington SW7 2DD ENGLAND

Public Transport: TUBE South Kensington


One of the great, free, museums in London. The Science Museum provides a lot of great hands-on exhibits in a magnificent set of exhibit halls. There is a charge for special exhibits and tickets to their IMAX theatre. It is easy to get to with the tube station only minutes away (and accessible via a pedestrian tunnel beneath the street). You can also walk through the Science Museum into the Natural History Museum.