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Science Museum

The Science Museum celebrates 60 years since Britain entered the Space Age

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Skylark: Britain’s Pioneering Space Rocket
From 13 November 2017
Science Museum
Free
Exploring Space

On 13 November 2017 it will be 60 years to the day since British scientists launched the Skylark rocket programme.

To mark the anniversary, the Science Museum is opening an exhibition that explores the story behind this remarkable project. It will reveal the lesser-known elements of the history of Britain’s first space rocket, from the scientists and engineers who designed it to the data gathered from its pioneering flights.

Skylark Mark II space rocket. Diagram of parts with annotation, c.1960s
Diagram of Skylark Mark II space rocket with annotations, c.1960s. Science Museum Group collection

Designed at the height of the Cold War, Skylark was originally intended for military research, with experiments carried on-board helping to develop the Blue Streak ballistic missile. But the broader scientific value of Skylark quickly became apparent, and researchers were keen to use the rocket to learn more about the Earth, Sun and deep space. In 1957–58 the rocket was the star of Britain’s contribution to the International Geophysical Year—a global project to research the physics of the Earth.

Flying to heights beyond the reach of existing scientific balloons, Skylark could perform numerous experiments during its 10-minute flight time. During a single mission, researchers could gather data to help them explore new and exotic areas of fundamental scientific interest, from measuring the temperature, density and wind direction of the upper atmosphere to conducting the first X-ray surveys of the southern sky.

The exhibition will include archive footage of Skylark flights and interviews with the space scientists who used it and helped to build it. Visitors can also discover through the objects on display how Skylark was instrumental in giving them the experience and expertise to work on ground-breaking future space missions including the Ariel 1 satellite and the Giotto spacecraft.

Britain launched a total of 441 Skylark missions over 50 years, making it one of the longest and most successful rocket programmes in the world. The knowledge generated by British teams with Skylark underpins the leading position in the global space science community that Britain occupies today.

For more information and images please contact Freya Barry in the Science Museum Press Office on 020 7942 4327 or via freya.barry@sciencemuseum.ac.uk.

Notes to Editors

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. More information can be found at sciencemuseum.org.uk.

About Discover South Kensington

Discover South Kensington brings together the Science Museum and other leading cultural and educational organisations to promote innovation and learning. South Kensington is the home of science, arts and inspiration. Discovery is at the core of what happens here and there is so much to explore every day. discoversouthken.com