The Cosmonaut Museum is a ‘must visit’ attraction when in Moscow, or so one of my fellow travellers told me.
Knowing very little about the Space Program, and with no plans to visit the space centre in Houston any time soon it seemed appropriate to take his advice, hop on a Metro, and learn what the space program is all about.
Now, as I am reading Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”, it seems timely to share my experience with you.
The Monument to The Conquerors of Space
Getting to the Cosmonaut Museum (or Museum of Cosmonautics as the Russians call it) is easy. Take the Metro Line 6 out of the city passing through Prospect Mira Metro Station. Alight at the VDNK Metro Station and look for the Monument to the Conquerors of Space.
Only a short walk away, this shiny obelisk-like structure covered in titanium (the metal used to construct space rockets) top represents the trail of smoke behind the rocket at its pinnacle.
Before entering the Cosmonaut Museum, which is situated under the monument, take a few minutes to walk around the monument. Cosmonauts Alley, dedicated to figures important in the space program, leads up to the monument.
On either side you’ll find a bas relief depicting men and women (workers through to scientists, engineers and cosmonauts involved in the space program) with Lenin pointing the way forward behind them.
Inside the Cosmonaut Museum
Once inside the Cosmonaut Museum, cloak your bags and coats and purchase your entry tickets. While today many explanations are in English, an audio guide really helped me to understand what I was looking at.
The museum is dedicated to the achievements of the USSR/Russian Space Program with some reference to NASA and other international achievements.
- Sputnik is the Russian word for satellite.
- The difference between a Cosmonaut and an Astronaut is where they are trained. The Russian Space Agency trains Cosmonauts, while the North American, European, Canadian and Japanese Space Agencies (NASA, ESA, CSA and JAXA) train Astronauts to work in space.
Walking through the Museum
Walking through the museum, you walk through the history of space exploration. My spine tingles to I think that I was looking at a life size model of the first artificial earth satellite, Sputnik 1, and Sputnik 2.
There are spacesuits worn by astronauts from various countries, including that worn by Michael Collins (Apollo 11) and, a surprise to me, one with a South African flag sewn onto the breast pocket – South Africa being the country where I grew up.
Laboratories showing different experiments (botanical, biological and radiation) carried out in space make fascinating viewing.
Dogs in Space
The two preserved bodies of the first dogs in space to return safely sit side by side on a plinth near the entrance to the museum. Named Belka and Strelka, these two little street dogs were found on the streets of Moscow and weighed around 5.5kg (12lb) each.
MIR Space Station
Walking through a full-size mock-up of the core module of the MIR Space Station is an eye opener. This space station manned by three (or more for short periods of time) crew orbited the earth around 15 times a day for ten years from 1986 to 1996.
MIR held the record for the longest continuous human presence in low Earth orbit of 9 years and 357 days.
The International Space Station (ISS), with a Russian segment for the cosmonauts and a United States segment where American and other international astronauts live and work surpassed this record. Today the ISS has been occupied continuously for over 20 years. It is expected to operate until 2030.
Peering into one of the space craft, I was amazed that anyone could fit into one of the three seats crammed into such a small sphere. Their knees must have almost reached their chins, such is the seating arrangement. And they would remain fixed in that position for hours.
Later I read in Chris Hadfield’s book, that height is a limiting factor for astronauts. And it takes time for the stiffness from the immobility to ease off after being in such a confined space.
The Repression Years
In another section of the museum a room set up like the simple home of one of the scientists involved in early space exploration (from the late 1800s to the early 1900s). People involved in space exploration weren’t immune from the harsh years of repression in the 1900s. One space scientist was sent to the gulag for 6 years, but then his worth was recognised and he was brought back into the space program.
Thoughts on the Cosmonaut Museum
Whether you are a space exploration ‘junky’ or a novice like me, a visit to the Cosmonaut Museum in Moscow is well worth the time. And spending extra on an English Audio Guide certainly enhances the experience.
- At the time of writing (2019), entry tickets to the Cosmonaut Museum cost 250 Roubles and the audio guide 200 Roubles. I’m not normally one to use audio guides, but made an exception this time and was really pleased I did.
- Getting to the Cosmonaut Museum: Take the Metro Line 6 to the VDNK Metro Station. Walk towards the tall shiny Monument to the Conquerors of Space. The museum is beneath the monument.
- An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield is fascinating reading. He describes what it takes to become an astronaut, as well as the nitty gritty of day to day life in space, including getting a haircut in space and bubble wrap races between sections of the International Space Station.
- If you want to know more about what’s happening out there, check out the website for NASA.(“NASA Live” in the Follow NASA tab is particularly fascinating).