Science Museum to tell human stories of Cosmonauts with new exhibition

Real Studios has designed Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age with an interpretive and abstract design that draws on the tropes of the Constructivist and Suprematist movements. It prioritises human stories ahead of scientific ones – marking a new direction for the museum.

Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov at the Science Museum
Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov at the Science Museum

Real Studios has designed a new Science Museum exhibition celebrating Cosmonauts and the Russian contribution to Space exploration.

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age marks a departure from Science Museum exhibitions which tell stories led by a science and engineering narrative according to Real Studios lead designer Mike Hawkes, who says: “It’s the social, spiritual and cultural history that we’re showing and the human achievements of the Cosmonauts.”

Early impression by Real Studios of how Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age may look
Early impression by Real Studios of how Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age may look

The consultancy won a pitch to design the exhibition and will tell the Cosmonauts’ stories through an interpretative and abstract concept loosely based on Constructivist and Suprematist art.

According to Hawkes the tropes of these movements were present in Russian Space design – “particularly in buildings like Star City – Russia’s secret Space base – and Sputnik, the first satellite in space.”

Iraklii Toidze, In the name of peace, 1959. Published by IZOGIZ. The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics
Iraklii Toidze, In the name of peace, 1959. Published by IZOGIZ. The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics

Kellenberger White was brought in to work on graphics across the exhibition. This includes a bespoke typeface extrapolated from the form of some text that Hawkes says “we found on the bottom of a Spacecraft”.

As visitors enter the exhibition Hawkes says they will “feel like they’ve been transported to a Space expo in the 1960’s or 1970’s.”

Cosmonaut achievements such as the first man in space, first woman in space and first Space walk will be marked and celebrated.

Boris Staris, The fairy tale became truth, 1961. Published by The Young Guard (Molodaya Gvardia). Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics
Boris Staris, The fairy tale became truth, 1961. Published by The Young Guard (Molodaya Gvardia). Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics

The exhibition considers how the Russian space effort grew out of a turbulent period in world history but begins with the work of late 19th century Cosmist thinkers who first proposed that humanity’s destiny lay in space.

Among other stories told is that of rocket pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s, whose 1933 drawings of Space flight, depicted spacewalks, weightlessness and life in orbit almost 30 years before it became a reality.

A page from Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Album of Cosmic Journeys, 1932. The Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
A page from Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Album of Cosmic Journeys, 1932. The Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The second section of the exhibition takes visitors “inside the secret bases” and will tell stories in a more direct less abstract way and feature bold graphics and type.

Here subjects such as the reality of living in space on board Mir and the International Space Station will be tackled.

Throughout the exhibition large objects take centre stage and their human stories are told through graphic displays. Although there are no interactives some AV features have been integrated including footage of cosmonaut training in centrifuges – “which looks like it’s straight out of a Bond film” – and Constructivist film Queen of Mars, “which looks a bit like Flash Gordon, but better,” says Hawkes, who adds: “The AV is purely atmospheric and silent though.”

Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age opens on 18 September and to mark the run up to the exhibition and 50 years since he became the first person to walk in space, Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov visited the Science Museum today.

Alexei Leonov, Over the Black Sea, 1973.  The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics.
Alexei Leonov, Over the Black Sea, 1973. The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics.

Following his Space walk on 18 March 1965 Leonov struggled to re-enter his spacecraft, before the automated navigation system failed and then when his craft finally entered the Earth’s atmosphere he was exposed to ten times the force of gravity and landed hundreds of miles off course in the Ural mountains where he was exposed to temperatures of -25c.

Leonov says: “There were many problems during my first flight. Many of those were impossible to test on Earth, for example, how would the Space suit react in the vacuum of Space? But I had to do it. What I want to say is that even if it’s only a small thing you want to achieve, you still need to make every possible effort and do it thoroughly.”

Dog ejector seat and suit, ca. 1955. Zvezda. Photo, State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO
Dog ejector seat and suit, ca. 1955. Zvezda. Photo, State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO
Chibis (Lapwing) Lower Body Negative Pressure Suit, 1971. Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. Photo, State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO
Chibis (Lapwing) Lower Body Negative Pressure Suit, 1971. Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. Photo, State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO
1961, first Soviet Cosmonaut squad. Front row, left to right: P. Popovich, V. Gorbatko, Y. Khrunov, Yuri Gagarin, chief designer Sergei Korolev, N. Koroleva with Popovich's daughter Natasha, Ye. Karpov, head of cosmonaut group, parachute jumping instructor N. Nikitin and doctor Y. Fyodorov. Back row, left to right: A. Leonov, A. Nikolayev, M. Rafikov, D. Zaikin, B. Volynov, G. Titov, G. Nelyubov, Valery Bykovsky and G. Shonin. Third row, left to right: V. Filatyev, I. Anikeyev and P. Belyayev. [16 from original group of 20 trainee cosmonauts are pictured. 11 of these flew in space.] RIA Novosti/RIA Novosti.
1961, first Soviet Cosmonaut squad. Front row, left to right: P. Popovich, V. Gorbatko, Y. Khrunov, Yuri Gagarin, chief designer Sergei Korolev, N. Koroleva with Popovich’s daughter Natasha, Ye. Karpov, head of cosmonaut group, parachute jumping instructor N. Nikitin and doctor Y. Fyodorov. Back row, left to right: A. Leonov, A. Nikolayev, M. Rafikov, D. Zaikin, B. Volynov, G. Titov, G. Nelyubov, Valery Bykovsky and G. Shonin. Third row, left to right: V. Filatyev, I. Anikeyev and P. Belyayev. [16 from original group of 20 trainee cosmonauts are pictured. 11 of these flew in space.] RIA Novosti/RIA Novosti.

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