It’s been my week for catching up on exhibitions. After Friday’s visit to the the Royal Academy to see the garden exhibition, I hot footed it to the Science Museum for the Russian Cosmonauts.
To be absolutely honest, space travel isn’t really my thing, but I was fascinated by this exhibition, not least because it was set in a very clear social and historical context. For example, there was a substantial amount of information about Sergey Korolev, one of the major players in the Russian quest to reach space. He was arrested in the Stalinist era and imprisoned in the Gulag for eight years before going on to head the Soviet space programme.
Then there were some very evocative Soviet posters, including one which celebrated Yuriy Gagarin’s 1961 trip to outer space. It said, “The fairy tale has become reality”.
Now fairy tales were just as important in Russian culture as, say, the brothers Grimm were in German culture: they were instrumental in forging a national identity, and such greats as Pushkin made their own collections.
And, of course, national pride and identity were at stake in the race to open up space, with the Russians in intense competition with the Americans.
In the end, the Russians sent the first man, the first dog, and the first woman into space, and, set among a lot of gleaming working models, was the actual rusty capsule in which Valentina Tereshkova returned to earth in 1963. This is pictured above.
But in all this show of glory and national pride, there was reference to one little girl whose dream to travel to space presumably was never realised. She had written to the powers that be advertising her suitability to become a cosmonaut because, she said, she owned a lot of the relevant equipment including a warm fur hat, a ski jacket, and felt boots – another very Russian phenomenon.
By the way, I resisted the temptation to buy one of these, charming though they are: