As previously mentioned on this blog, the descent module of Soyuz TMA-19M – the spacecraft that took British astronaut Tim Peake to the International Space Station and back again – is currently on tour around the UK. Today, my dad and I took a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry to see it!
The capsule, accompanied by a parachute and Peake’s Sokol spacesuit, was positioned close to the main entrance and drawing a large audience. Through the window, you could clearly see the control panel, which the astronauts/cosmonauts have to operate with a pointer while strapped in their seats. A very enthusiastic presenter gave a short talk on the layout of the Soyuz, and how both launch and re-entry work. A typical landing in the capsule, with a parachute the size of two tennis courts and retro-rockets that fire just before impact, is referred to as a “soft landing” – but apparently it still feels like a car crash! Presumably having mass again after six months of weightlessness doesn’t help.
The Museum of Science and Industry is spread over four buildings: the Great Western Warehouse, the Air and Space Hall, the Power Hall, the Station Building and the 1830 Warehouse. The Warehouse contains an exhibit on the history of British communication, from telephones to radio to television. The Station Building is actually the world’s oldest surviving railway station; it opened in 1830 to serve the world’s first intercity railway, between Manchester and Liverpool. From the pictures and quotes inside, it was easy to appreciate how incredible and novel travelling by steam train must have felt at the time, and how we take rail travel for granted today.
A number of actual steam locomotives could be found in the nearby Power Hall, as well as various engines used in places like cotton mills. Among the locomotives were a Vulcan 4-4-0, built in 1911 and used in India and Pakistan; and a 1929 Garratt, an articulated three-part locomotive used in South Africa, designed to handle inclines and sharp bends.
The Air and Space Hall, naturally, was home to many different aeroplanes. Among the most interesting ones was the English Electric P1A, the first supersonic British jet; a homebuilt aircraft from the 1930s called the Flying Flea; and the giant Avro Shackleton reconnaissance plane. Shackletons flying with the RAF’s No. 8 Squadron were named after characters in the British children’s TV series The Magic Roundabout and The Herbs; the one at the Museum was named Dougal!