Andrew found out last week that "Tim Peake's spacecraft" was going to be at the Media Museum and the museum had developed a Thursday "late" around it and the general concept of space and he thought I'd be interested. It did sound good.
Though not enough to stop me being grumpy that the Soyuz capsule wasn't brought to Manchester. It'd be a much better fit at MOSI, which not only has "science" in the name and concept of the thing without having to be wedged in with a crowbar, but actually has an Air and Space Hall
. That hardly ever has any "space" stuff in it! But noooo, we had to trek all the way to Bradford for this, so it was a good thing the event was free because travel was about twenty quid and we were aware of how capricious the trains home could be.
I'd seen a Soyuz at the National Space Centtre
in Leicester, but that was the full thing, all the modules looking if not pristine (it's fifty years old) at least clearly not having actually been to space. (You can see pictures and info about it at that link.) This thing, on the other hand, looked more like a sixties Doctor Who
Which makes sense: it's of about the same vintage. Very little has changed for Soyuz, and the fact that it's still (and once again the only
) way to get into space kind of blows my mind. The pictures I have here were all of side most blackened by heat when this particular capsule returned to the Earth. The other side of it was still burned, but a sort of rich brown color rather than charcoal black.
The ropes are to the parachute that was displayed with it, hung from the ceiling of the two-story high atrium where you first come into the museum. It was mostly draped and wrapped up and still ridiculously huge -- and of course only one of the parachutes Soyuz needs, but this was referred to as the "main" one and I think it is the biggest.
People kept trying to peer into the windows and I couldn't see a lot but Andrew told me it was nice and analogue in there: big buttons, well-labeled switches, luckily no touchscreens here! He also said there was a sign that said "help! man aboard" or something, and something he presumed was the same in Russian, visible through one of the windows I took these pictures through.
So we heard a little talk on that and while I was glad the museum was keeping the activities clearly meant for the school trips around for adults, who got their faces painted and made Mars rovers powered by balloons and stuff, the rest of what we happened to do was classic Media Museum stuff.
First we went to see the Moon landing on vintage TVs.
I think the one nearer to me in the picture here was from the late fifties, and the smaller one (you can't really tell from this crappy picture but it was in color!) was from the mid-sixties, so both could have been used to watch the Moon landing -- though we saw it because these have been converted to take digital format video, and since the BBC did erase the video tapes of the Moon landing, we were just watching the raw NASA footage for a few minutes, which was kind of great in itself and honestly probably better than listening to Patrick Moore and James Burke burble on about it?
The curator for this was great, talking about what it would've been like as an experience: the Moon landing happened at something like four in the morning UK time, and since NASA had a couple of hours' worth of film sent with the astronauts they just let it play. It was a big deal to have video cameras recording for hours
at that time (never mind in space
!) and it was the first time British TV broadcast all night long. She set the scene really well, and got everyone to give Neil Armstrong a round of applause when he said his famous words. She was clearly used to school groups too, unable to hide her amazement when somebody (of course it was Andrew) could tell her which channel was the first to broadcast in color.
We also went to Insight
, both thinking as we did that the last time we were there we saw Dracula's teeth, to see a bunch of photos and similar that at least vaguely related to space. As always with anything like this I was much more interested than I thought I would be when I first had it described. The media museum is great for displaying some of these items it has that it can't usually show the public, and again there were curators and other volunteers telling us about everything.
So we saw some magic lantern slides (a sort of very early slide projector)...
...some 3D pictures of the Moon and a Viewmaster-type thing for looking at them through, lots of pictures of everything from someone testing the beef cubes that will be made into astronauts' food to sixties- and seventies-era prototypes of space shuttles and space stations and so on, and a daguerreotype of the Moon!
Again, the enthusiasm of the volunteers and curator totally made this what it was, what this museum is best at.
Like all trips to the Science and Media Museum since it became such, it was bittersweet in that the place is a sad shadow of what it once was, but even the shadow is still pretty great. I'm still mad at what the Science Museum Group are doing to it, and in how that affects the way they share their resources with Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry too. But no matter how much they threaten to close one of their "northern museums," no matter how much they pilfer the Media Museum's unique collections and the relationships it's built around them...the people who work and volunteer there, who love the place, and the great things they're still allowed to display, make it a totally special place I am still so fond of.