7. Space Stations and Beyond

The Cosmonaut's Wardrobe, from training on Earth to living on a Space Station.

Moving into the next gallery, we are met by the third capsule which flew in Space, the Soyuz TM-14 (below), which took Cosmonauts to and from the Mir Space Station in 1992. Opposite the capsule there is a short film from the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, showing in speeded-up time Vostok rockets and Soyuz capsules being built and then the rocket being transferred to the launch pad. It is actually too short; it would be very interesting to be able to study the images more closely.

The TM-14 was the next generation of Soviet Space
Capsule after Vostok and Voskhod.
Dominating this gallery, though, is a large cabinet on one side of the room (top of page) displaying various garments which Cosmonauts wear either under their spacesuits or in training, including two cooling garments (one from the 1980’s, one from the 1990’s) which are worn next to the skin under the spacesuit when a Cosmonaut/Astronaut does a spacewalk; and what looks exactly like “The Wrong Trousers” from Wallace and Gromit!

The Wrong Trousers?

It is actually a device for creating a near vacuum in the lower part of the body to draw the blood down so that the heart has to work harder in Space. Without it Cosmonauts in weightlessness could have serious problems with their heart when they return to Earth, as the lack of gravity means that blood is not pulled down to the legs, meaning that the heart does not have to work hard to bring it back up and around the body. Like any unused muscle, in such a situation the heart becomes lazy.

At the far end of this cabinet (below) there are various tools used in Space, as well as items from the Mir Space Station. The shower cabinet (which proved unpopular and was quickly discarded) and the toilet with its intricate system for filtering out liquid which could be recycled and solid matter which was sent back to Earth in the Progress cargo ship attracted particular attention.

Essentials for living on a Space Station. The shower proved impractical and
Cosmonauts now use large wet-wipes to clean themselves.
Alongside these are a refrigerator (which many people mistook for a washing machine) and a table which served as both a dining table, complete with Space food, and the control panel for the exercise machines.

Helen Sharman's Spacesuit (and
giant shadow!) Helen is so small
that many visitors asked if this
was a Spacesuit for a child!
On the other side of the gallery, just past the Soyuz capsule, are examples of spacesuits, including the second item which belongs to the Science Museum, the suit worn by Helen Sharman when she became the first Briton in Space in May 1991. There is also the moulded seat which carried the world’s first Space tourist, Denis Tito; a jet-pack for operating outside the spacecraft untethered; and the prototype of the Mars-500 spacesuit, as used in the one-year experiment the Russians conducted to simulate a mission to Mars.

Seeing the spacesuits reminds me of something I heard in a talk by Chris Hadfield, the “singing Canadian astronaut” (he sang a version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity while on the International Space Station (ISS), which became hugely popular on YouTube; Bowie’s lawyers raised objections until Bowie himself said it was the best rendition of the song ever made).

Hadfield said that the spacesuit used for spacewalks really is a one-man space capsule. Firstly, it has to withstand the constant bombardment of tiny particles of rocks and meteors which are flying round in Space. He said that the astronaut keeps checking every 20-30 minutes to see if there are any holes in the spacesuit; if there are he has to decide whether the hole is sufficiently large to call off the spacewalk and inform Ground Control that he is going back inside. The gloves are the thinnest part of the suit, as mobility of the hands is essential, but there is a connection at the wrist to prevent swift depressurisation should a hole appear in the glove.

More astonishing still, was what Hadfield said about the temperature the spacesuit has to withstand when an astronaut is doing a spacewalk. If he is facing the sun, the temperature on the front of the suit is +160 degrees Celsius. At the same time, the temperature on the back of the suit is -160 degrees Celsius. That statistic is truly mind-blowing!

Spacesuits of the Future: (Left) prototype of the Mars 500 suit; (Right) Spacesuit and
jet-pack to free the Cosmonaut from being tethered to the Spaceship.
As we look up in the centre of the room, there is a screen on the ceiling showing the Soyuz craft in Space; Cosmonauts doing spacewalks and waving the Olympic Torch for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014; and shots filling the whole screen of the ISS. When seen like this, and especially when you see Cosmonauts/Astronauts carrying out repairs on the outside it is impossible to comprehend in our earthly understanding of the speed at which the ISS is travelling round the Earth: 17,500 miles per hour. It takes just an hour and a half for the spacecraft to complete an orbit of the Earth, 45 minutes in sunlight and 45 minutes in darkness.

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