Earlier today I published the space bucket list, containing all flown manned spaceflight vehicles on public display around the world. Reason for compiling this list was ongoing debate about specific spacecraft locations and people (including me) questioning the authenticity of certain spacecraft on display in museums. I visited a record number of spacecraft in museums in 2014. This blog post is an attempt to describe a specific (geeky?) travel theme and the diversity of destinations this covers, rather than a story about a destination. Join me on a virtual tour of Europe, Russia, Kazakhstan and the United States, all visited in 2014.
Closest to my home town are the spacecraft on display at ESA’s Research and Technology Centre at ESTEC in Noordwijk. They have some cool flown hardware, but no human spaceflight vehicles. This is the Foton-12 probe, that was launched from Plesetsk on 9 September 1999. It spent 15 days in space before returning its microgravity research payload back to Earth.
In May I visited several space museums in Moscow (see my story about the Moscow space sights here). The Museum of Cosmonautics has several flown Soyuz capsules on display, like the Soyuz TM-7 that is nicely set in a winter survival scene.
The same Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow has the Soyuz-37 capsule…
And the Soyuz TMA-4, which has been put back underneath a mockup of the crew compartment. Only the bottom part is a real flown capsule. It happens to be the capsule that took my fellow countryman André Kuipers into space in 2004.
Also in Moscow you can visit one of the few remaining Buran shuttles. The only one that ever went to space was destroyed in Baikonur, but several test models have survived. The famous Gorki Park Buran OK-TVA thermal test vehicle was recently restored and moved to VDNH Park, where you can see her now. In May it was still in bad shape in Gorki Park. She was removed from there a few weeks after I took this picture.
Just outside of Moscow is the town of Korolov, home to RKK Energiya and several space museums. The RKK Energiya Museum is a classic, with many flown spacecraft, but unfortunately difficult to get into. The Korolov City Museum has a very nice space display too, with two flown, very likely manned, Soyuz capsules sitting on the parking lot outside, as they don’t fit the building doors…
I visited this place with a bunch of space geeks in May, but so far we have not been able to identify these two Soyuz capsules. Hence they are not listed in the bucket list, yet…
From outside the RKK Energiya factory gates you can see the Vostok rocket on the company grounds. Here the Soyuz capsules are manufactured!
At a 3 hour flight from Moscow (which can be treacherous, see my flight story here) is the famous Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This place has a lot of flown hardware, spread over many sites. This is one of the few flown (so they say) TKA VA capsules. If you ask politely they will let you sit in it! Baikonur is the ultimate space city. See my blog post about the town here.
Sitting in the TKS VA Capsule of the Chelomei School in Baikonur! Quite the experience to be inside a spaceship that has actually been to space!
Also in Baikonur is the dummy ‘Ivan Ivanovich’ in his original (?) ejection seat that was used for the Korabl-Sputnik-5 mission, a few weeks before launching Yuri Gagarin.
The Cosmodrome Museum at Site 2 is home to the OK-M Buran space shuttle thermal test model. After being ignored and left to the elements, it has been more or less refurbished and parked outside the museum.
The only place in the world (that I know) where you can sit behind the wheel of a space shuttle! It never flew in space, but it is an exact copy of the orbiter, used for thermal and structural testing.
The third (and last) Buran shuttle that can be visited sits in Germany, at the wonderful Technik Museum in Speyer. It is the fully refurbished OK-GLI, which was used for flight testing. For that purpose it has four jet engines mounted to the rear part, and it has jet fuel tanks in the payload bay. After travelling the world via Russia, Sydney and Bahrain it is now the centerpiece of the best space exhibit in Europe!
The Technik Museum in Speyer also has the Soyuz TM-19 capsule, that took German astronaut Ulf Merbold into space in 1994.
In October I had the extreme privilege to participate in a microgravity research project, where I got to fly on a parabolic flight campaign on the Airbus A300 F-BUAD “Zero-G”. This was probably the closest I will ever be to experience what it is like to be an astronaut in space!
I spent a total of 12 minutes in zero gravity, flying 31 parabolas of 23 seconds each. The experience was life changing, although my stomach didn’t like it as much as my brain did… I have to thank the International Space University for taking an almost impossible space geek wish off my bucket list!
The other side of the Atlantic is home to most US space equipment. The number one place to go is the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. The museum on the Mall in DC has many classics, like this Mercury MA-6 “Friendship 7” capsule, that made John Glenn the first American to orbit Earth.
Of course you shouldn’t miss the Apollo 11 command module that took Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to the Moon in 1969. It prominently sits in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in the Air and Space Museum in DC.
Make sure you don’t miss the much better visible (because not encased in plastic) Apollo Skylab 4 capsule, which is suspended from the ceiling at National Air and Space. Two Apollo’s for the price of one! (The Museum is free of charge by the way)
The great Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) display shows the Apollo CSM-105AV test capsule (the real CSM-111 is displayed at the California Science Center in LA) and a mockup Soyuz-19 spacecraft connected to each other in the epic 1975 Russian-US collaboration mission.
The coolest stuff in the DC area is kept at the Smithsonian Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. Here you can see Space Shuttle Discovery, but also (in this picture) the Mercury MA-10 Freedom 7-II capsule (never flown) and Big Joe I Mercury Boilerplate capsule, flown as a test article in 1959. And don’t miss the Gemini VII capsule on the right edge of the picture, flown by Borman and Lovell for a 14-day mission in December 1965.
The Udvar Hazy Center also has this Apollo test capsule, used for water tests. It has the original Apollo 11 flotation collar and airbags (these went to the Moon before being deployed in the Pacific Ocean!) and several Gemini test capsules.
The centerpiece of this collection in Virginia is of course Space Shuttle Discovery! Also see the Canadarm robotic arm in a yellow display stand to the right of the shuttle.
Somewhat in the corner of the Udvar Hazy Space Hall is the ESA Spacelab Module #1, that flew 9 European Space Shuttle missions between 1983 and 1997.
Also at Udvar Hazy is the balloon capsule used by Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner on his altitude and speed skydiving record attempt in 2012. Not quite space, but close enough…
Another important must-see space museum in the US is of course Kennedy Space Center in Florida. KSC is home to a lot of flown spaceships too, most importantly Space Shuttle Atlantis, that is very well displayed in a dedicated building where you can easily spend half a day.
One of the best displays of a Gemini capsule is in the KSC Early Space Exploration Pavillion, where you will find the Gemini IX spacecraft from 1966.
And if you thought the Visitor Center does not have enough cool stuff, you should transfer to nearby Saturn V center, built around a large left-over Saturn V rocket. The Apollo capsule in the suspended stack is a model. However, the Command Module underneath is the Apollo CSM-119 Skylab Rescue Capsule. It is one of three Apollo capsules built that never flew. It was built to fly though. so as real as the others that did make it into space. Impressive to see the original shiny color!
Of course nothing beats a capsule that took people to the Moon, so make sure you do not miss the Apollo 14 capsule in one of the side rooms of the Saturn V Center!
There is a third museum that is part of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, located off Merritt Island, in the town of Titusville. It is called Astronaut Hall of Fame. It has a great chronology of space flight, with many very cool items. It also has the original Mercury MA-8 “Sigma 7” capsule, that took Walter Schirra into orbit in 1962.
For those interested in the more quirky or mysterious, you should drive along Highway 3 from KSC towards Cape Canaveral. Somewhere behond a fence, in an alligator infested swamp you will see the remains of the wooden Space Shuttle “Resolution!”, built as a full scale mock up by amateur modeler Chuck Ryan. It was considered to use as a cockpit trainer, but was left in the swamp, deteriorating over time and probably falling apart soon.
For the very last space capsules that I visited in 2014 we go back to Europe. Unknown to many, there is one Apollo capsule on display outside the US, at the Science Museum in London. Free to visit, it interestingly sits in an exhibit of the best of science and engineering of the last 250 years. You have to walk through the space exhibit to get there though… This capsule was the last to orbit the Moon before the next mission actually landed there.
At the moment there is also one Mercury capsule on display in Europe. The MR-4 was the second manned Mercury launch, taking Gus Grissom into a very short suborbital flight over the Atlantic in July 1961. Upon splashdown Liberty Bell 7 unfortunately sank to the ocean floor, where it remained until 1999. Refurbished at the Kansas Cosmosphere it is now on loan to the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn, for the 2014/15 ‘Outer Space’ exhibition. (Photo source: Wikimedia Commons)