The first man to ever perform a space walk, Alexei Leonov, visited the Science Museum in London on Thursday to announce the upcoming Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age exhibition that will run for six months from 18 September 2015.


Leonov undertook the first space walk 50 years ago, a mission that nearly ended in disaster multiple times.

During the flight he and his co-pilot had to contend with over pressurised space suits, temporarily passing out at the helm and surviving three nights in the Ural Mountains after an emergency landing.

Despite the excitement and drama of Leonov’s story, few in the Western world have heard about it, or any of the amazing achievements made by the Soviet and Russian space programs.

This exhibit hopes to change that.

Cosmonauts will chart the course of the Russian space programme from the first ideas of visionaries such as Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in the 1930s, through to the modern day.

Finally it will look forward to where the future of space travel may take the Russian nation and the rest of the world with it.

“We want this exhibit to be to science history what the Tutankhamen exhibit at the British Museum was to human history,” says Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum.

It certainly promises to be a unique event.

The museum has managed to acquire over 190 items from all eras of Russian and Soviet space flight, most of which have never left Russia and several that have never been viewed by the public at all.

“Our Russian colleagues think of these items as their crown jewels,” says Blatchford.

The items on display will include the equipment that has taken humans – and dogs –­ to space and back.

Vostok-6 and Voskhod-1, the two craft that carried Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, and the first multiply crewed spacecraft respectively, will take pride of place in the exhibition, still bearing the heat scars from re-entry.

But Cosmonauts will also show the human side of the programme with art work and personal items of the men and women who went to space, including the drawing Sunrise, sketched by Leonov during his space walk mission.

The exhibit promises to give a look at a side of the history of space travel that has remained relatively unknown, and serves as a reminder that despite its start, space travel and exploration is not for a single nation.


As Leonov says, “The results and developments of the space race serve the whole of mankind.”


Elizabeth Pearson
Ezzy PearsonScience journalist

Ezzy Pearson is the Features Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.