Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age: Exhibition Review | SC Exhibitions

Visitors with the LK-3 lunar lander 
in the Cosmonauts exhibition © Science Museum
The box room is bathed in an eerie blue light. Mellow Russian music plays on a synth piano. The tones are transcendent. Illuminated in yellow at the centre of the room, a mannequin of Yuri Gagarin – the first man in space – is cradled in a metal net, itself resting within a polygonal glass coffin. He stares up at a red-glowing rectangle on the ceiling, representing, so I’m told, the possibility of a mission to Mars. The sensors covering his body once recorded radiation levels while he orbited the moon. On one wall is written, “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever – Tsiolkovsky, 1911.” With its mellow ambience, I feel as if the exhibition is giving my brain a soothing massage.

This, the final section in the Science Museum’s latest show, Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, is a fitting, yet curiously abstract and arty end, to a bold and ambitious exhibition, driven, for the most part, by solid human endeavor, technological innovation and exhausting persistence. It’s also the first time in recent years that an exhibition has truly surprised me; after propelling you through galleries tightly wrapped in technology, filled to bursting point with the relics of Soviet space equipment, videos, photos and information panels – above, beside, below and sometimes stacked one above the other – the exhibition doesn’t so much as come to an abrupt end, as leave your senses suddenly weightless and freed, floating in an electric blue orbit alongside mannequin-Yuri. I half expected David Bowie to turn up.

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