Last night Kaede and I got to be one of the first groups to go on the Science Museums new Space trail, part of their ‘Summer in Space’ exhibition, that opens this weekend. I have to say that when the invite came I was more than a tad excited. The Science Museum has always been a firm favourite since I first visited it as an eight year old Cub Scout (and isn’t that a great mental image for you) and now I was hoping to pass down that sense of wonderment and awe to my unsuspecting six year old daughter.
We were told to arrive 15 minutes before the Museum closed and we patiently (in Kaede’s case anyway) waited for the museum staff to get everything sorted and begin the tour. I think there was maybe eight other parents, fourteen kids, three staff members, two tour guides and the curator in our party and we had the whole museum TO OURSELVES.
As soon as we walked into the huge Energy Hall she squeezed my hand and took a very audible sharp intake of breath, it had her. Mind you, every hair on my arms had stood up, so it still had the ability to get me as well. If you’ve ever been to the Science Museum you know what I mean, if you haven’t, well I don’t really have the words to do it justice. The size of the pieces, the machinery, the steam engines, the visual avalanche and that’s just the first room.
Then through to the ‘Exploring Space’ gallery, here 2 rockets hang overhead pointing the way to a full-sized replica of Eagle, the landing pod/ship/thingy that took Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon’s surface. There are space suits, space food and space diapers, almost everything a space freak could want. Kaede had been given a flip-cam to use as the museum wanted some film from a kid’s point of view and she was running around filming and gasping in equal measures. I apologise to the staff in advance, as I’m not sure how much of her footage they’ll be able to use but my guess would be very little.
Next we moved on to, in my opinion, the star of the show - the actual Apollo 10 command module. To be standing only feet away from something that has actually orbited the moon was mind-blowing. To see the scorch marks, to peer inside the window into the cramped conditions the three astronauts had to endure, was truly incredible. We had watched the launch on YouTube before we left, so even Kaede fell silent as she looked at it. Watching her trying to compute what she had seen to what she was seeing and then see the look of astonishment appear on her face was definitely a magic moment.
After that was the ‘Making the Modern World’ gallery, jam-packed with items from 1750 onwards that have shaped the way we live today. From the large – cars, planes and Stephenson’s Rocket; to the small – a sample of penicillium mould, a porcelain bowl from Hiroshima and Edison’s filament lamp. With so much to see you could easily spend hours in there, but we were soon onto the next part of the trail, the ‘In future’ gallery.
We didn’t stay too long here but it did have a couple of big multi-user games in there about predicting the future, although the only future I could predict is that I had to get Kaede to a toilet PDQ.
Next was the ‘Launchpad’ gallery, full of hands on experiments that help explain some of the laws of physics. There were water bottle rockets that you could help launch across the ceiling, a big grain pit that explained how simple machines help things move easier and more moving, playable, unbreakable stuff as you could shake a stick at. The kids were all in seventh heaven and I will admit that I took the time to sneakily join in the fun. I also joined in the groans when we had to move on to the next gallery, spoilsports.
Onwards to the ‘Cosmos & Culture’ gallery, a gallery full of telescopes and all things star-gazing related. Even Wallace & Gromit’s ‘Moon-machine’ is on display, as well as a telescope made from baked bean cans (only to be used on windy nights I presume?) Once the kids had filled their eyes with moons, stars and giant mirrors, we went back down to the ‘Exploring Space’ gallery and some much needed refreshment.
The children sat around the ‘Eagle’ replica, munching away on crisps and sarnies and being entertained by someone playing the character of Gene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon. He gave the kids a fascinating talk on what it was like to take off on a rocket, walk on the moon; in fact he pretty much covered everything, even the inevitable poop in space questions. After he had finished his chat he took Kaede around some of the exhibits, including the space diapers and space food that were of primary interest to her. I was really impressed by the way he was talking to her and not talking down to her, this was definitely going to be one night she would remember.
To say we had a great time would be somewhat of an understatement. Kaede can’t wait to go back and has rather graciously, by her standards, allowed that even her little brother could come next time. As for me, any place that can fill me with a childlike sense of wonderment has to be a hit. The ‘Summer in Space’ exhibition starts on 23rd July 2011 and full (and probably more accurate) details can be found at www.sciencemuseum.org.uk