Cosmonauts Revisited

A Stroll Through Time, Space and Dreams:
The Cosmonauts Experience, September 2015-March 2016

Foreword: From September 2015 until mid-March 2016 I was a Volunteer at the Cosmonauts Exhibition at London's Science Museum. The Cosmonauts Experience grew exponentially over the six months. I first saw the Exhibition at a preview for Volunteers on 14 September 2015. The opening night three days later was one of the most amazing receptions I have ever attended. My first Volunteer shift was on 7 October. Regular weekly shifts saw my knowledge and enthusiasm grow in the period up to Christmas, and a break for the holidays and a two-week spell in Russia.

Tsiolkovsky's Grave in Kaluga
While in Russia, we visited Kaluga and went to the house of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, "the Father of Space Travel"; the Museum of Cosmonautics named after Tsiolkovsky; and the Tsiolkovsky Park, with his grave under an obelisk in the middle. This for me was the real moment of “lift-off” for the Cosmonauts Experience; ironically, not in the Exhibition itself, but in the place where, thanks to Tsiolkovsky’s mathematical genius, the realisation began to dawn that the dream might come true.

Further inspiration came from the Revealing the Cosmonaut symposium at the Science Museum on 5 February 2016. I cannot recall attending any other conference where the presentations have so grasped my attention for the whole day: seven excellent presentations by speakers who clearly not only knew their subject but were enthusiastic about imparting their knowledge, all illustrated with wonderful images. After this, my enthusiasm for the Exhibition – albeit for the final month or so – knew no bounds.

View of the International Space Station projected onto the screen of the Science Museum's iMax Theatre.

This was my first experience of volunteering and once a week I went into the Exhibition to help to explain aspects of the Exhibition to visitors. Before I started, I would not have believed the effect this would have on me. As it turned out, the Exhibition brought out a huge range of emotions: excitement at having been involved with such a superb project; inspiration to have been close to items of such historic significance and the amazing feats of brilliant and courageous people; sadness, when it came to an end. As one of my fellow Volunteers said at a feedback session, it was a great privilege to have been a part of the Cosmonauts Experience; something which has gone way beyond simply an Exhibition.

Cosmonaut: someone who sails through space; Russian, космонавт. From the Russian, космос, (kosmos) space, and Greek nautes, sailor. (Cosmonaut is understood to refer to a Soviet or Russian space traveller, or someone who goes into space as part of the Soviet/Russian space programme. When the Americans started to send people into space they coined the term, Astronaut, from the Greek/Latin astra, star. Hence, an Astronaut is someone who sails through the stars.)

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