The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow

I think you might have to be a bit older than me to properly appreciate why the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow, devoted to the Soviet and Russian space programme, is so utterly fascinating for Mama and Papa.

Soviet space programme mural
Space! The final frontier!

Currently I am quite concerned about some of my toys. They are not here. I keep asking Mama if they are in my far far away home. She says yes and I am reassured for another ten minutes. Mama is delighted. Not, I hasten to reassure you because I am undergoing angst, but because she thinks I have understood something important about the abstract concept of place. What I say is that you get on a train for ages, a plane for ages and ages and ages, a train for ages, an underground train for ages, and then still have a short bus ride to go, you would have to be considerably dim, or perhaps, you know, two or something, not to figure it out.

But space, its vastness, its inhospitable nature and the difficulty of finding a way in and how to stay there successfully escapes me utterly. It escapes my Cosmic Big Brother a bit too really. Mama blames his fixation on animals, and also modern life. Mama, who was born a long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long long time ago still remembers the excitement of some impossible new milestone being reached, and has some grasp of the sheer effort involved in reaching it. Well, you would if the height of excitement is watching snooker on a black and white TV.

Technology these days, however, is so sufficiently close to magic, that she is not convinced that we will ever quite understand what a big deal throwing a big metal object out of the Earth’s atmosphere and getting it back again in more or less one piece actually is. Mama had a jolly good stab at getting it across anyway, using up all her inconsiderable knowledge of physics and engineering in expanding on just why every. Single. One of the exhibits in the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics is just so damn cool. By about half way round my Cosmic Big Brother had knuckled under and was actually taking an interest.

He still liked the stuffed representations of Belka and Strelka, the two dogs who made it back, and the model space toilets best though.

Belka and Strelka in the (stuffed) flesh.
Belka and Strelka in the (stuffed) flesh.

What excites Mama is that the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics has exhibits related to (*cough* nearly *cough*) ALL of the great space achievements of the last seventy years in one glorious building. The Soviets and Russians don’t have to try to impress you, they just have to empty out the contents of their space programme cupboards a bit. You don’t even notice the lack of footprints on the moon. Not when you have not one but two different types of nifty *cough* unmanned *cough* landing craft in front of you instead.

The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics main gallery
Shiny shiny shiny

In addition, the four first flights are fully documented, there are displays devoted to engineering genius, insights into training methods, details of life on board a space ship, dioramas of dramatic landings, examples of probes to near satellites and the ones further away, and lots of stuff from both space stations, which in the case of MIR is also available in a walk through mock-up. Look out for the aforementioned toilets, the upright sleeping arrangements, the computer stuck to the ceiling, and the fish tank.

The museum is visually stunning too. The rockets, satellites, landing crafts and probes which litter the place are design objects d’art in their own right, Mama reckons, and exceedingly shiny to boot. The first room you enter has lighting designed to simulate a particularly impressive starry starry night, which makes all the metal objects twinkle and the marble floor gleam. The main exhibition area has a space mural painted all over the ceiling, and with it’s ground floor overlooked by a mezzanine level of aluminum walkways Mama almost felt that at any moment she would be ushered into a spacecraft and countdown would commence. Thrilling!

First gallery in the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics
Shiny shiny shiny

So it’s a fun space for an exploring pre-schooler to roam around, even if the stuff on display is just so much pretty background. They also have puffy armchairs at strategic points for you to dive headfirst onto so you can lie and stare at the planets whirling by overhead. And of course I was thrilled by the interactive touch screens. No idea what they were showing me, but wheeee! Stab stab stab stab stab. My Cosmic Big Brother liked the one which allowed you to virtually explore Mir, and Mama  played around with the one where you could look up international participants in the programme. Yay! Britain had one! Go the UK! Of course, the screens were so far up the walls that Mama or Papa had to heft me high to reach them, but my parents need the exercise so it’s fine.

Just don’t touch the rope barriers. There are many many babushka docents hovering and they will come and tell you not to. This is a shame, because the rope barriers are splendidly thick, hugely velvety and a rich blue colour. My Cosmic Big Brother was totally unable to stop himself from stroking and I was constantly drawn to unhook them, despite the constant reminders. You are also not allowed to put your hands on the glass cases whilst gawping at the things inside. Which you really would think we would have grasped by the end. On the upside, the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics is not inclined to trust its visitors with important objects in too close a reach, so only the fixtures and fittings were ever in danger from our questing little hands. This sort of thing makes Mama relaxed and happy in a museum.

What doesn’t make Mama happy is trying to take surreptitious photos. You are allowed to take pictures, but only if you buy a special photography pass. Mama did not realise she might really really want to until she was too far in, a mistake as Mama is an indifferent photographer at the best of times, and that is not while trying to press the button whilst hiding behind Papa and pretending to examine some moon rocks. Do not repeat her mistake. Buy the pass. You will want to take a lot of snaps.

Other things Mama found interesting: the wall of cosmonauts, which is constantly updated – the latest went up for his first mission in March of this year. The film loop of footage surrounding the first flights – clips of take offs, engineers fiddling with equipment, and the great dog/human cosmonauts themselves waving, of course, but also shots of ordinary people’s reactions to the news. The personal touch to the commemoration of the great engineering brains – not just their medals or items from their professional lives, but photos of them relaxing at the datcha and their favourite chess board and so on. The examples of the cosmonauts’ food – especially the nifty fridge, with all the fruit and vegetables tied carefully down. And the large numbers of oil paintings apparently done by the second man in space, who seems to have been particularly into Shishkinesque landscapes. It’s nice to know that even cosmonauts have hobbies.

Engineering genius on display
Engineering genius on display

The only slight niggles Mama would like to share are that the cafe was closed and the shop extremely abbreviated. The lack of a cafe was particularly annoying as there also isn’t even an ice cream cart anywhere near the museum following the city authority’s recent rather over enthusiastic crack down on all manner of street food vendors. And we all know how Mama gets when she doesn’t have regular infusions of coffee.

The museum does have the best entrance marker of any museum evah. A sliver rocket soaring on a silver smoke trail elegantly high into the sky. At its base are two very Soviet murals whose supermen (and dogs) marching gloriously forward into the heavens does not, in this instance, look at all overdone. Mama has been admiring it for years, but never made it into the museum. Do not dither in the same way yourself. If you are in Moscow, you must go and see the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. It’s important, it’s interesting, it’s beautiful and it’s really really well air-conditioned.

The rocket sculpture above the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics

More information

The museum website.

This is what the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has to say about the first manned space flight.

Address: 129515, Москва, пр. Мира, д.111

Opening: 11am to 7pm every day except Monday, when is is closed, and Thursday, when it is open until 9pm.

Price: Adults – 200 rubles (about £2), Children over seven (and other concessions) – 50 rubles (50p), Children under seven – free. The photography pass (which you MUST get) is 200 rubles (about £2).

By Metro: The nearest station is ВДНХ (VDNKh) on the orange line. It is about 100m to the museum entrance past a couple of cruise missiles if you come out of the exit near the front of the train (assuming you are travelling out from the centre), but if you choose the exit past the rear carriages, you can walk up a pedestrian-only avenue lined with cosmonaut-planted trees, busts of famous space-programme-related people, stars commemorating important cosmic milestones, and a damn big solar system sculpture-come-sundial. Luckily, whatever you choose, you can’t miss the museum. Head for the rocket.

By other means: Don’t be silly.

Wander Mum