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Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition is unveiled

Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman and first civilian to travel into space, visited the Science Museum today, to open Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, the greatest exhibition of Soviet spacecraft and artefacts ever to be seen outside Russia.

  • Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition opens on 18 September 2015
  • Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova opens most ambitious exhibition in history of Science Museum
  • Star objects include Vostok-6, the actual spacecraft that took Tereshkova into space
  • 5-metre tall LK-3 lunar lander from Russia’s manned Moon programme, a secret until 1989, among rarely-seen artefacts
  • Most exhibits never seen outside Russia; some de-classified for the exhibition
  • Significant Soviet space art and design exhibits
  • Cosmonauts: Brith of the Space Age tells the story of how Soviet Russia kick-started the space age
  • 18 September 2015 – 13 March 2016
  • Admission: £14, concessions available
  • Tickets: sciencemuseum.org.uk/cosmonauts
  • Principal Funder: BP plc
  • Major Funder: ART RUSSE
  • Additional Funding from the Blavatnik Family Foundation

In opening the exhibition, Valentina Tereshkova was reunited with Vostok-6, the actual 2.6 tonne spacecraft that carried her into and back from orbit in 1963. Complete with the scorched remains of its heat shield, Vostok-6 is just one of many unique spacecraft and artefacts in the exhibition to have travelled into space.

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, supported by BP, runs from 18 September 2015 – 13 March 2016.

Cosmonauts tells the remarkable story of the scientific and technological ingenuity that kick-started the space age with a record number of firsts for the Soviet Union: in 1957, it launched Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite and four years later sent the first human into space—Yuri Gagarin. Following the success of Sputnik, the Soviet Union launched the first animal, man and woman into orbit—all within six years.

Lead Soviet rocket engineer and designer Sergei Korolev is said to have insisted on Sputnik’s shiny appearance because he believed that one day replicas would be displayed in the world’s museums. Visitors to Cosmonauts will be able to look inside an original engineering model of Sputnik from 1957.

Among the 150 exhibits in Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age are:

  • The monumental 5-metre tall LK-3 lunar lander (1969), the most complete Soviet lunar lander still in existence. Designed to take a single cosmonaut to the Moon’s surface and kept secret until 1989, this lunar lander was declassified especially for this exhibition
  • A dog ejector seat and suit, engineering models as used on Soviet suborbital rocket flights (1960)
  • A space toilet, shower, fridge and other space kitdesigned to help cosmonauts live on Mir space station
  • Gold phantom mannequin made in the image of Yuri Gagarin, flown around the Moon on Zond-7 (1969) to test the effects of radiation
  • Rocket pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s extraordinary 1933 drawings of space flight, depicting spacewalks, weightlessness and life in orbit almost thirty years before they became a reality
  • Rarely-seen collection of original Soviet space poster art which fixed the image of the cosmonaut in the minds of the Soviet people

On seeing the exhibition, Professor Brian Cox said:

“I think you will leave the Cosmonauts exhibition with a different view of humanity’s place in the cosmos.”

Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was chosen to become the first woman to travel into space on 16 June 1963. She had been a keen parachutist before joining the space programme and this experience stood her in good stead when training for ejecting from the Vostok spacecraft. During launch, Tereshkova shouted, ‘Hey sky, take off your hat! I’m coming to see you!’ Her mission lasted three days (70.8 hours) and she orbited the Earth 48 times.

The push to send a woman into space had come from Lt General Kamanin, head of the cosmonaut training programme, who wrote in his diary, ‘Under no circumstances should an American become the first woman in space—this would be an insult to the patriotic feeling of Soviet women.’ It would be twenty years before the first American woman was launched into space (Sally Ride aboard the Space Shuttle).

From the work of late 19th century Cosmist thinkers who proposed that humanity's destiny lay in space, to the reality of living in space on board Mir and the International Space Station, Cosmonauts will give visitors a unique opportunity to get up close to many of the key innovations that made space exploration possible.

It will explore the science and technology of Russian space travel in its cultural and spiritual context, revealing a deep-rooted national yearning for space that was shaped by the turbulent early decades of the 20th century.

Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum, said:

Cosmonauts is a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition that has taken years of dedication and skill from the Science Museum team to make a reality. The Russian space programme is one of the great intellectual, scientific and engineering successes of the 20th century and I am thrilled that we have been able to bring together such an outstanding collection of Russian space artefacts to celebrate these achievements. I want to thank all our partners and funders who have made this exhibition possible.”

With the move by both Russia and America to create a more permanent human presence in space from the 1970s, international co-operation became increasingly necessary. Visitors to Cosmonauts will have the opportunity to see some of the ingenious technologies developed by Russia for use on board the Salyut and Mir space stations and now used on board the International Space Station.

“Cosmonauts tells the story of the Russian space programme as never before – and in doing so it also tells the story of Russia through its history, technology, culture and its people,” said Bob Dudley, Group Chief Executive, BP. “BP has a long-standing relationship with the Science Museum aimed at increasing public engagement with science and technology. Our support of Cosmonauts is also an extension of BP’s broader efforts in Russia to promote the development of science and engineering as well as excellence in arts and culture.”

Cosmonauts represents a major collaboration between the Science Museum, the State Museum Exhibition Centre ROSIZO and the Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos. The support of many other institutions and individuals in the UK and Russia has also been crucial in the development of the exhibition.

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age has had additional support from ART RUSSE (Major Funder) and the Blavatnik Family Foundation.

Visitor information

Venue: Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD

Opening hours: Seven days a week, 10.00-18.00. Open until 22.00 every Friday

Tickets: Available in advance via www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/cosmonauts

Prices: Adults £14 (concessions and Group tickets available). Children under 7 free of charge.

More information: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/cosmonauts

For further information, interviews and images please contact the Science Museum Press Office: Julia Murray, 020 7942 4328 / julia.murray@sciencemuseum.ac.uk or Michael Barrett, 020 8295 2424/ 07813 558 772 / michael.barrett@sciencemuseum.ac.uk

Notes to editors

About BP plc

BP is one of the world's leading international oil and gas companies. We provide customers with fuel for transportation, energy for heat and light, lubricants to keep engines moving, and the petrochemicals products used to make everyday items as diverse as paints, clothes and packaging.

BP's businesses are organized to deliver the energy products and services people around the world need right now. Our Upstream segment is responsible for our activities in oil and natural gas exploration, field development and production. Our Downstream segment is the product and service-led arm of BP, focused on fuels, lubricants and petrochemicals. We employ around 85,000 people in almost 80 countries worldwide.

BP has been working in Russia for 25 years in collaboration with leading Russian oil and gas companies. This currently includes a strategic shareholding of 19.75% in Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company. Our commitment to Russia goes beyond the development of oil and gas reserves and our overall support of local social, cultural, educational and charity projects has been the largest among foreign companies investing in Russia.

We have demonstrated our commitment to UK communities over the last 45 years through support for arts and culture and for the education of young people. Find out more about BP in the UK and the BP in the Community programme.

About ART RUSSE

ART RUSSE, led by entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrey Filatov, was founded in 2012 with the aim of developing a greater awareness and understanding of Soviet and Russian cultural contributions. In particular it focuses on collecting and increasing international awareness of Russian art dating mainly from the period 1917–1991, an artistic period known as Socialist Realism for which ART RUSSE has become the point of reference. Its aim is to increase appreciation for this genre through supporting exhibitions, lending to international museums and galleries, and publishing books and catalogues on key artists and artefacts.

About The Blavatnik Family Foundation

The Blavatnik Family Foundation is an active supporter of many leading educational, scientific, cultural and charitable institutions in the United States, Europe and throughout the world. The Foundation is headed by Len Blavatnik, an American industrialist and philanthropist. Mr Blavatnik is the founder and Chairman of Access Industries, a privately-held U.S. industrial group with global interests in natural resources and chemicals, media and telecommunications, emerging technologies, life sciences and real estate. 

About ROSIZO

The National Center for Museums and Exhibitions, ROSIZO, is a Federal State Budgetary Institution under the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. In cooperation with leading Russian and international institutions ROSIZO arranges exhibitions of Russian art around the globe and implements large-scale projects within the bilateral years of culture. Some of the most recent initiatives include Kazimir Malevich and the Russian Avant-Gard (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Bundeskunsthalle, Bonn; Tate Modern, London), Palladio and Russia From Baroque to Modernism (Museo Correr, Italy) and Russia-Switzerland (Château de Penthes - Museum of the Swiss Abroad, Switzerland).

About exhibition designers Real Studios

Real Studios was founded in 1998 with a unique design philosophy: to combine the interior and exhibition design skills of its founders—Yvonne Golds and Alistair McCaw—in the creation of spaces that are strong on narrative clarity, sensitive to site and content, and which feature the most exciting and appropriate contemporary, multi‐ format presentations.

In the last 12 months, the studio has completed several major exhibitions marking important anniversaries: two exhibitions in new spaces at the Tower of London, one of which was commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I; a new permanent exhibition in Swansea dedicated to Wales’ most famous literary figure, Dylan Thomas, to mark his centenary; and a stunning new visitor experience, Shakespeare All Around Us, at Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford‐on‐Avon, for the 400th centenary celebrations. Real Studios' strengths in design, collaboration and content masterplanning were amply demonstrated in 2013, not least with the huge success of the multiple award winning David Bowie is exhibition at the V&A—jointly designed by Real Studios and 59 Productions. They also completed a £2m reinterpretation scheme for the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, and designed a luxurious new eco‐friendly safari camp in Kenya, Mahali Mzuri, for Virgin Limited Editions.

About the Science Museum

As the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum’s world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over 3 million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement.