On July 20th 1969 I can clearly remember being woken in the early hours of the morning by my father to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon. Only a few days earlier, Star Trek had been broadcast for the first time on BBC television. Is it any wonder I’ve been a bit of a space nerd ever since, even though a great deal of the engineering and the physics goes right over my head and floats off into the cosmos. When I visited Washington DC several years ago, the National Air and Space museum was first on my list of places to go, thus when I discovered there was a space centre in England, whilst travelling along the M1, I made damn sure it was high on my agenda this time around and it’s well worth a slight detour.
Pride of place on entering the modern building is Soyuz, the Russian spacecraft, which transports astronauts from Earth to the International Space Station. It’s not much bigger than a large saloon car and if I ever had the notion of being an astronaut I would fail at the first hurdle as I’m not small, nor do I like being confined in enclosed spaces.
The space suit of Helen Sharman, the first British person in space, is very small and her launch seat appears even smaller. (Her suit is dwarfed by the one worn by Matt Damon in the movie The Martian.)
Kudos to this remarkable woman who sat in a crouched position for hours on her way to the International Space Station, a model of which is on display.
Walking around the space centre there are copious things to see and a vast amount of information to absorb.
I, of course, only recall the trivia. The first chimp who was sent into space was called Ham, Venus has a hostile environment of sulphuric acid rain and in 1967 an Apollo 12 Space Treaty was agreed for the rescue and return of astronauts if they landed on foreign soil. I will have to study up on the Gemini Capsule, the Gamma 2 engines and the Thor rocket, which is at least 4 storeys high, easily seen by ascending the sides in a glass elevator.
In the Space Centre is the Patrick Moore Planatarium, named after the legendary British astronomer. In a full dome 360 degree threatre, I was reminded of the history of space travel and I must mention the Mercury 13, a group of women who were passed fit for astronaut duty by NASA back in the early 1960s. Tests showed women were far more suited to space travel than men. They were less likely to suffer from loneliness, cold, heat and pain and, as they weighed less, it was cheaper to send them into orbit. Testing of women was abandoned in 1961 and the Mercury 7, all men, were sent instead.
Of course, Russia was not so misogynistic and the first woman in space was Valentina Tereshova in 1963 and I had the pleasure of visiting her home town recently, which will feature in a subsequent blog. I hope in the future there will be peace and opportunities for all, regardless of gender. The Space Centre, is well worth a visit, where the USS Enterprise does not feature, but a great deal of information about what is happening in the universe and beyond can be seen. “Live long and prosper.”