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Cosmonauts Press Launch SEPTEMBER 2015

Tereshkova and her craft reunited

There has never been anything quite like the Cosmonauts exhibit at London’s Science Museum. An ambitious, respectful but joyful celebration of Russian space-exploration; a standing ovation to the men and women who saw the stars and reached for them – innovators and champions, a few madmen and many heroes, adventurers the likes of whom the world had never seen before. 
Public memory has draped the Stars and Stripes firmly over the start of the Space Age – we think of Earthrise, of Neil Armstrong bounding along the surface of the moon, ships named after gods of the sun. But it was in Russia that space exploration blossomed – and for the first time exhibits like the descent module of Vostok-6, the spacecraft that bore the first woman into space, the LK-3 lunar lander from Russia’s manned Moon programme (a state secret until 1989) and stunning Soviet space art are exhibited together. 
The objects that tell their stories are gathered in the Science Museum: poised and waiting, imbued with the tremendous weight of history. Most have never left Russia. Some have been de-classified for the purpose of the exhibition. Once jealously guarded, masked by the fug of the Cold War, they now stand ready for the eyes of the public. 
At last Thursday’s press preview were Ian Blatchford, the Director of the Science Museum Group, Sergei Krikalev, veteran of six space flights and prominent rocket scientist, and the first woman in space – Valentina Tereshkova. When asked about how the Science Museum could promote knowledge of Russian space exploration Blatchford joked that perhaps he should go into space himself; whereupon Tereshkova agreed to accompany him… 
Perhaps the highlight of the opening was Valentina Tereshkova reunited with the Vostok-6 descent module. She recounted how in training she referred to it as: ‘My lovely one. My best and most beautiful friend. My best and most beautiful man.’ At first it is hard to imagine this rickety metal jumble entering space at all, but Vostok-6 bears the scars of re-entry: its exterior thermal insulation blanketing scorched and tattered by the ferocious heat. It is mind-boggling to see the ejection seat rails and think of Tereshkova baling out of the module five miles above Earth in order to parachute the rest of the way home. But Tereshkova stands next to it, a proud, dignified presence, and the cameras flash like stars and – yes, you see it. The cosmonaut and her craft. The pioneers who led the charge: alive and together again. 
Cosmonauts is open now at the Science Museum and runs until 13 March 2016.
Below: Valentina Tereshkova in front of the Vostok-6 descent module.