The Incredible Cosmonauts at the Science Museum, London

Sputnik I

At the dawn of the 20th century, Russian cosmists developed the idea that the future of humanity lies in space. Their ideas made the leap from science fiction to reality when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, friend of leading cosmist Nikolai Fedorov, calculated the mathematical means of launching a rocket into orbit. It is incredible to think about how far we have come in terms of space exploration in just over a century but even more so to consider how fraught with controversy, danger and political wrangling that journey has been.

The earliest cosmist thinkers were arrested and imprisoned in Soviet gulags for their anti-Soviet activities and much of their early work occurred in secret. When did the tides turn to the extent that the Space Race became the primary tool in the Soviet Union’s arsenal of weapons in the Cold War? If you consider that the Soviets sent the first rocket into space, as well as the first living creatures and human beings, who actually won the Space Race?

The Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition at the Science Museum is, in a word, fantastic. The visitor walks through history as they encounter the very first days of Cosmism and the birth of space exploration. They learn about Sputnik, Laika and Yuri Gargarin, as well as the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova and travel all the way to the present day, Mir Space Station and beyond.

Many of the items on display are being seen outside of Russia for the first time and in fact, many of them have been borrowed from military institutions who are not known for sharing so this is the first time they have been seen in public.

There is so much to see at the exhibition and it is a little daunting to try take in a full century packed full of history so I’m going to share my very favourite parts.

The photo above is a model of Sputnik I which was launched into space on 4 October 1957. The satellite could be seen across the globe and people were fascinated by reports of the beep-beep sound Sputnik I was transmitting back to Earth.

R7 missiles that launched Sputnik into space

If you look up in the photo above, you’ll see replicas of the R7 rockets that fired the satellite into orbit. It’s hard to believe that they could achieve such a feat, being that they were little taller than a person!

Sputnik-inspired samovar

Of course, the world went Sputnik crazy following the launch and that fever was at its peak in Russia. This is a Sputnik-inspired samovar which depicts a Sputnik teapot orbiting the Earth. I have to have one of these!

Sputnik 3

Sputnik 3 was launched into space on 15 May 1958. This is a near exact replica of the spacecraft which was in fact a space laboratory that contained all sorts of instruments for measuring and collecting data about the astronomy, biology and physics in space. I thought it looked like a Dalek.

Glory to Gargarin

On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gargarin became the first human being to be launched into space on the Vostok 1. Naturally, the world went crazy about Yuri, so much so, that the term “going Ga-ga” was coined. The banner above says “Glory to Gagarin” and the poster is Boris Staris’s “The Fairytale Comes True” (1961).

Vostok VI

This is the actual Vostok 6 spacecraft which took Valentina Tereshkova into space on 16 June 1963, making her the first woman to ever go into space.

I spend a ridiculously long time staring at the spacecraft and the one below. What impressed (or terrified) me most about this was was the damage to the exterior and how dangerous the flight was. Soon after reaching orbit, Tereshkova realised the spacecraft was misaligned and this would mean that the braking rocket could fire her deeper into orbit and she would have died in space. Thankfully, the ground crew were able to transmit a correcting computer program to the spacecraft.  I had no idea that kind of technology was possible in 1963.

Voskhod I

On 12 October 1964, Voskhod I was launched into space and orbited the Earth for 1 day, 17 minutes and 3 seconds. Voskhod means sunrise which perhaps explains why it is a large, red sphere and it carried three people in the tiniest space. The spacecraft was so tiny, in fact, that there was no room for spacesuits and if you look carefully at the photo above, you’ll see the three beds. There is no way I am ever spending 1 days and 17 minutes in an enclosed space with two other human beings.

Cosmonauts postcards

Once again, the Soviet Union went crazy for the cosmonauts. These postcards say “slava” in the corner which means “glory” and you can see some tiny Yuri Gargarin matryoshka dolls at top left. I have to have a set of those to go with my Sputnik samovar!

LK 3 Lunar Lander

The absolute star of the exhibition was the LK3 Lunar Lander. This is an engineering model but don’t let that impress you less because this is as far as the project went – the Soviet Union famously abandoned their moon-landing project when the USA reached it first.

Sadly, the Soviets had actually planned on reaching the moon as early as 1967 but their rockets kept failing. This module would have carried one person to the moon and had to be dismantled into smaller parts in order to get it into the exhibition.


The final part of the exhibition took us right to the present day. We got to see the many suits required for a modern space journey including heating, cooling and compression suits.

Food in orbit

I finally realised that I am not cut out for space travel when I saw the food that cosmonauts have to eat on their travels. There is no way I am opening a tin can that looks like that.


This spacesuit was used 13 times for spacewalks from the Mir space station. The exhibition closed with an incredible comment about how once-hostile nations now work together on the International Space Station for the good of all humankind.

Escape the cradle

Finally there was a quotation from one of the first cosmists, Tsiolkovsky:

“Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever “ – Tsiolkovsky, 1911


When visiting the exhibition, do make sure you leave enough time and money to spend in the Cosmonauts store. I imagine that space geeks like me will go crazy in there!

Cosmonauts store

The Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age runs at the Science Museum, London until 13 March 2016 and is the must-see exhibition of the year. Tickets are £14 and can be booked on the Science Museum Cosmonauts page.

The Science Museum
Exhibition Road
South Kensington

I'd like to thank the Science Museum for inviting me to the exhibition and for allowing us to take photos which was an absolute privilege. Photography is not normally permitted in the exhibition.

Access All Areas: Charing Cross Station Tour

Disused Jubilee Line Platform

Being a train geek and fan of hidden and abandoned places, I have always wanted to go on one of the London Transport Museum Hidden London tours but was always disappointed because they sell out so quickly. I was thrilled then when my friend Phil got us a pair of tickets to go on the Access All Areas: Charing Cross Station Tour. It definitely pays to be a London Transport Museum Friend!

Disused Corridor in Charing Cross Station

The tour is a behind the scenes, all-access tour of non-operational Jubilee Line platforms, a ventilation shaft and a disused access tunnel at Charing Cross Station. It is an excellent place to practice the use of perspective and vanishing points in photography and also a unique chance to see the London Underground without hordes of people.

Disused Escalator in Charing Cross Station

If these corridors and escalators look familiar, it is because they are often used in films. This is the escalator that featured in Skyfall and it finally answered a question for me. I remember scoffing during the film and saying there was no way Bond went sliding down the middle partition because there are obstructions to prevent precisely that kind of behaviour in the real Underground. But there you are – a perfectly clear and inviting place to slide. I was so tempted.

Disused Jubilee Line Corridor

Paddington Bear, 24 and Spooks have also been filmed here.

Vintage British Rail Signage in Charing Cross Station

There are lots of vintage signs and chances to see snippets of the Underground from days gone by. This British Rail signage invoked a lot of nostalgia amongst us weary commuters.

Looking Out From Behind the Scenes in Charing Cross

It felt strange to peek out into the operational parts of the Underground and see life carrying on as usual. Don’t be fooled – this ‘normal’ looking passenger broke into a happy dance when he noticed me taking his photograph.

Standing Above The Platform in Charing Cross

We exited the Jubilee Line area and then entered another secret passageway to visit the ventilation shafts. Don’t walk this way if you’re scared of heights, they said. Well, you know me and my vertigo, that is just an invitation to me to overcome it and up the passageway I skipped. I have to admit, there were parts of this section that took my breath away. It doesn’t look high but it is. Nonetheless, I loved looking down onto the train and the platform below but was especially careful not to drop my phone.

Walking To the Ventilation Shaft

Next we turned up towards the ventilation shafts.

Looking Up the Ventilation Shaft

Again, the photographs give no idea of the height and depth of this section. To give you an idea, the ventilation shaft is 3m higher than Nelson’s Column! I was scared my hard hat was going to fall off and felt a little shaky and dizzy.

And down the Ventilation Shaft

When I exited into the corridor, one of the stewards asked if my obvious dizziness had ruined it for me but I just felt exhilarated. It was a real privilege to see these hidden areas and I wasn’t going to let a little vertigo ruin that for me.

Entering the Access Tunnels in Charing Cross Station

The last part of the tour was a visit to the disused access tunnels where they store tools and equipment. This was my favourite part of the tour and I loved the muted lighting and eerie atmosphere.

The Vanishing Point

The access tunnels run all the way under Trafalgar Square and end in the area where the fourth plinth (with its increasingly horrible installations) is located.

Corrugated Iron in the Access Tunnels in Charing Cross

The tunnels run to the surface and were used during the construction of the Jubilee line to remove debris and rocks to the surface.

Access Tunnel in Charing Cross Station

These days there are a lot of sidings and corrugated iron sheets stored in the tunnels as well as bags of cement and other construction materials.

Ceiling in Access Tunnel in Charing Cross Station

I thoroughly enjoyed our tour of Charing Cross station and would absolutely recommend it to anybody who is interested in London Transport and the London Underground. We had a lot of fun and I can’t wait until my next transport-related outing. Tickets cost £30 each, which felt like a lot of money but I enjoyed the experience so much that I am happily forking out another £30 on the Clapham South tour in October.

Stored Materials in Access Tunnel in Charing Cross Station

Transport for London and the London Transport Museum have announced this week that they will be conducting Charing Cross Tours again on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays between 25 March and 17 April 2016. Visit the Hidden London: Charing Cross page for more details.