Sharing space with the Russians

Memorial Rocket MonumentA Russian face is easily misunderstood. The frozen expression, the indifferent grimace, the deadpan look: it’s easy to conclude that Russians are as frigid as the wind that blows across Siberia.

But, only the stars could be further from the truth.

My last days with friends of the Federation strengthened my appreciation for their kindness, cooperation and good will. Combine that with a trip to the Museum of Astronautics and it’s clear that good relations are critical for science.

As soon as I step away from the Metro, I stand awestruck peering up at a majestic spire called the Monument to the Conquerors of Space. A silver rocket soars into the heavens at a height of 330 feet. The monument was built in 1964 to commemorate the launch of Sputnik, the Earth’s first artificial satellite. The rocket rests on a stream of titanium and a foundation of granite. A statue of one of rocketry’s founding fathers, Russian-born Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, watches proudly from below. I circle around the entire sculpture and then finally find the door to a museum that is (pun intended), out of this world!

Our curator meets us in the foyer. We begin our tour with a brief history of canine space exploration. During the 1950s, the USSR used dogs for sub-orbital flights to test the rigors of missions. Don’t be alarmed, most of the dogs survived and besides, America’s Project Mercury used chimpanzees and monkeys as test subjects.

Special attention is given to the first human to journey into outer space, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The date was April 12, 1961 aboard the Vostok spacecraft and the capsule completed one complete orbit of Earth. Original capsules, rockets, space probes and instruments, they’re all on display but in limited English. For a few extra rubles you can take photos of everything.

Other milestones of the Space Age are described through films, exhibits and reproductions: the first spacewalk, the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova), the first multinational manned mission between Russia and the US (July 1975), the list goes on.

Our guide also emphasizes the rewarding joint project of the International Space Station (ISS), a habitable sky lab in low orbit since 1998. Crew members include Russians, Americans, and people from a number of other countries, all conducting laboratory research in biology, physics, astronomy and meteorology. The ISS completes 15 orbits a day. The ISS is an excellent example of advances in science made possible by international partnerships.

Museum of Astonautics, Russia

Museum of Astronautics

Museum of Astronautics

Museum of Astronautics