Space is cool again, with crewed flights launching from the USA once more, the promise of a return to the Moon by 2024, and even the prospect of life on Venus. Help spark the imagination of your children by visiting one of these brilliant space-themed museums around the country.
Note: all of the venues mentioned below currently require you to prebook tickets before arriving. Some charge entrance fees.
The Science Museum, London
Here’s a museum that needs little introduction. Many of us will have been taken to the Science Museum from a young age -- a vast treasure house of gadgets, contraptions and hands-on displays. The space gallery is particularly popular. Here, you can see a full-size model of an Apollo lunar module; the space suit worn by Britain’s first astronaut, Helen Sharman; and any number of models of rockets and space probes. The greatest prize of all sits just outside the space gallery, and this is the capsule from Apollo 10 (pictured), the mission that circled the Moon as a dress rehearsal, just months before Neil and Buzz made that historic landing.
The Royal Observatory Greenwich, London
London’s other big space centre sits on top of a hill in Greenwich. The Royal Observatory was first established in 1675, making it one of the oldest astronomical buildings in the world. It’s packed with objects relating to time, space and astronomy, including a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite (pictured) and a statue of Yuri Gagarin. The only planetarium in London can also be found here, though this remains closed at the time of writing.
The National Space Centre, Leicester
Imagine the Science Museum’s space gallery blown up into an entire museum, and you pretty much have the National Space Centre. Designed with families in mind, and within easy reach of the M1 in Leicester, this is an excellent day out. The centre’s landmark ‘rocket tower’ houses two genuine rockets (a blue streak and a Thor Able). Elsewhere, you’ll find chunks of Moon rock, another full-size lunar module model and (the prize exhibit) a genuine Soyuz spacecraft from the Soviet Union (never flown). The NSC also boasts the largest planetarium in the country.
Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, Macclesfield
Britain’s most famous telescope (it’s even appeared on stamps) was the largest of its type when first built in 1957, and Jodrell Bank remains the third largest steerable radio telescope to this day. Its contributions to astronomy are endless, so much so that it’s been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The visitor centre provides a history of the telescope, with regular tours and talks. The extensive grounds are also a joy to explore and include a playground and cafe.
Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium
Greenwich and Leicester don’t have the country’s only planetariums. Another fine example can be found at the Winchester Science Centre. It’s reopening on 17 October, just after World Space Week, but will do so with a bang. A brand new gallery (dedicated to sound, but featuring a Tin-Tin-style rocket ship) and outdoor space will bring a new look and feel to this local favourite. The planetarium has daily screenings of two films, one showing the scope and scale of the universe and the other acting as a tour of the wonders of space.
Glasgow Science Centre
Glasgow Science Centre is noted for its bold modern architecture as well as the wonders inside. Its stainless steel shell looks like something from another world, while the spindly Glasgow Tower resembles a rocket launch tower. The centre covers many areas of science, and has its own dedicated space section. This takes the form of an immersive gallery of the solar system which, when you’re done gawping at the planets, leads into Glasgow’s own planetarium. It reopens on 3 October.
Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh
Although this is ostensibly a museum about our planet, it also does a good deal of scene setting, with displays and films going back to the Big Bang itself. You can also learn about the Earth’s place in the Universe by visiting the site’s own planetarium -- a brand new “fully digital state-of-the-art 360°” experience. Shows include a film about the Moon landings, and a look at how we’re all made from stardust.
ThinkTank, Birmingham and We The Curious, Bristol, including their Planetariums, remain closed at the time of writing, as does Techniquest in Cardiff and Southend Planetarium. Armagh Planetarium (the oldest in the UK) hopes to reopen on 28 October.
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