As part of their latest exhibition, Cosmonauts. Birth of The Space Race, the Science Museum in London has been running a series of after hours events, including a Space Comedy Night hosted by Radio 4’s Helen Keen.
For anyone with an interest in the early years of space exploration this exhibition was a treat. From the development of Sputnik,Laika, Vostok, Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereskova this gave a wonderful insight into Russia’s achievements in pioneering the way to the stars.
I was really amazed to see Yuri Gagarin’s military uniform and Valentina Tereskova’s flight suit on display. I don’t know how the Science Museum got Russia to agree to loan them but it was deeply impressive that they did.
But ultimately the most touching parts of this exhibition were the glimpses of the human emotion behind the science. I think I’ll always remember the letter to the Russian space programme from an 8 year old girl asking to be an astronaut as she “had a warm coat for when she was in space”.
Onto the comedy night, which was hosted with gusto by Helen Keen. Helen’s enthusiasm for the history of space flight and championing of the often overlooked achievements of the women involved is always inspiring.
First act up was Festival of The Spoken Nerd, who provided a musical tribute to the Philae probe, fire tornados and a parabola graph. As ever they made what many would consider dull and dry subject matter exciting, engaging and fun in their own unique way. From electricuting gherkins to demonstrate how sodium street lights work to creating explosions using a lamp and two parabola discs I just my science lessons at school had been like that.
More musical entertainment came next with Darren Hayman. His first song was a lovely tribute to two of the Soviet space dogs, Belka and Strelka, who were the first to make it back to Earth alive. His next numbers showed a novel take on human astronauts with songs about Buzz Aldrin’s alcoholic years and Alan Bean’s post moonwalking career painting portraits of himself on the moon.
Following a hotly contested space quiz between the left side of the auditorium, “comrades to the left” and the right side, “comrades to further left”, the evening was rounded off by final guest Robin Ince. Armed with a stack of books and some hilarious anecdotes about working with Brian Blessed he delivered a set that was as thought provoking as it was funny. One of the main things that I admire about Robin Ince is his passion for learning and his encouragement of his audience to never loose the wonder of the world, and universe, around us.