"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)

Monday, 26 April 2010

We Is Down Among ’Em Charlie

This is my 50th blog, something of a milestone so it's appropriate that it's a special one.

Yesterday I fulfilled a long held ambition to see with my own eyes an actual Apollo spacecraft. Obviously a trip to the Kennedy Space Centre is my ultimate goal, but till that glorious day I am more than happy with my visit this weekend to the Science Museum in London where I was able to see the Apollo 10 Command Module Capsule. So here I am with Charlie Brown.
As I mentioned in the previous blog, it was important for Mission Control to be able to communicate clearly between the two different spacecraft so giving space ships names wasn't just affectation. Pilots naming their aircraft was something of a tradition in aviation circles, so the Apollo astronauts were allowed to name their spacecraft with the Apollo 10 crew deciding on the call sign Charlie Brown for the CSM and Snoopy for the Lunar Module. Why Charlie Brown and Snoopy? Well, it was the ‘60’s, there was a lot of crazy stuff going on but the mission for Apollo 10, a dry run as it were for the first moon landing by Apollo 11, called for the LM to get close to but not land on the surface of the moon. At its lowest the LM got to just under 9 miles from the lunar surface. While there, they were to “snoop” around the proposed Sea of Tranquillity landing sight. Obviously, one thing lead to another and posterity is left with Charlie Brown and Snoopy associated with one of mankind’s greatest achievements. If it had been Britain not the USA that had first put men on the moon, then we may well have ended up with spacecraft called “Major Clanger” and “Tiny Clanger”, so we really can’t complain.
It would take a couple of days exploring round the Science Museum to see all the wonderful things they have on display but I was there specifically for the CM and the museums other space stuff. With limited time and a limited budget you have to make the most of it which is definitely what I did. However, I did take the time to see some of the other exhibits including a Cray supercomputer...
a replica of Babbage’s difference engine, the very first computer
this fabulous machine that used to make “the pips” to mark the hour
part of an early British particle accelerator
the Rolls Royce “Flying Bedstead

the Short SC.1 XG900 VTOL research aircraft and yes I know this picture is the wrong way up but I think it shows of the aircraft better this way.
And a V2 rocket.
All this (and a lot more besides) was just on the ground floor along with the space stuff, so one day I’ll have to go back and take a look at the rest of the museum. I didn’t spend the whole day looking at space stuff with my mouth open though, as Mrs Kitsch and I also went to the Victoria and Albert Museum to catch the brilliant quilt exhibition they have on there. “Brilliant quilt exhibition?” Yes but I’m getting ahead of myself. Space.
The Apollo 10 Command Module is the real thing that actually went to the moon and back. However, the museum also has a full scale replica of a Lunar Module.
It was much bigger than I expected and I’m so glad to have seen it, it really helps put some of what I know about the moon landings into some kind of perspective. There was a rather sad looking dummy astronaut standing by the LM.
I always think dummies look a little sad and slightly pathetic, however good the rest of the display. Even this one has a somewhat pitiable air about him. However, I also really like that in a display. That’s why I love small town museums that are past their prime, with displays that are falling apart, moth eaten stuffed animals, that kind of thing.
Amongst the other impressive space hardware, relics and replicas was the actual space suit warn by Britain’s first astronaut, Helen Sharman 
There is another Sharman space suit at the National Space Centre in Leicester so which is the genuine article? They both claim to be the space suit she wore for the mission but they can't both be right. I think the one in Leicester must be one of the spares as in the photos I've seen it looks too clean to have been worn on the mission, unlike the one at the Science Museum. Another fantastic item on display was this rocket...
The Black Arrow was a British rocket designed to launch satellites into space.
Another world beating and successful British achievement that had the plug pulled on it by short sighted politicians. They can swindle money out of us for duck islands and mortgages that don’t exist but when it comes to investing money into something really worthwhile for the nation, forget it. Another display that caught my attention was the replica of the Huygens probe that went to Saturn's moon Titan as part of the Cassini-Huygens mission.
I couldn’t help but notice that some of the chandeliers in the cafe at the VA looked a lot like it. Or is it just me?
I like this replica of the first Sputnik together with a brilliant dummy of a soldier launching an early military rocket. I’m sure there must be some confused souls who have gone away with the impression that Napoleon was responsible for the space race.
Which reminds me, the bookshop at the Science Museum is run by Waterstones. I bought a book there myself, here it is, one of the quite brilliant NASA mission reports published  by Apogee.
I bought a several other souvenirs’ of the day including this lot...
Space toys, or as I call them ornaments, and a space blanket (for the brilliant packaging). And the obligatory postcards...
I was hoping there would be more Apollo related stuff but I think I did pretty well on the souvenir front, so I’m not complaining. Anyway, the bookshop. I couldn’t help but notice that as a general bookshop within the museum, rather than one run by the museum, it was selling all kinds of books, not just science and related subjects, and there was a whole table devoted to the “Twilight” series of teenage vampire novels. What are kids meant to think of this? It’s hard enough for some adults to separate fact from fiction, or am I being a bit over sensitive? Probably.

At this point I need to say two big THANK YOUs. First to my lovely partner Mrs Kitsch...
...who stayed with me the whole time I gawped in wonderment at space hardware and didn’t complain once. She even accompanied me into the Force Field...
...which didn’t quite live up to the hype about experiencing a take off in a Saturn V rocket, landing on the moon etc with its state of the art combination of 3D film, moving seats, dry ice, wind, bubbles and simulated smell of the moon (the astronauts reported that the moon dust on their space suits smelt of gunpowder). Still, I’m glad we did it. Thank you Mrs Kitsch for making the day really special. And I really enjoyed the quilt exhibition at the VA, very inspirational.

Also thanks to our friend Pete who pulled strings and used contacts to get us to London by train on the cheap and generally acted as our guide round the city. Even though he kept calling me a geek (OK, he may have a point) we bought him doughnuts, a fitting reward.
So there we are, an ambition fulfilled and my first contact with an actual Apollo spacecraft. Hopefully the first of many. If like me you’d like to see all the actual spacecraft that helped the US win the space race, then go here to see their current locations. If you are going to any or all of these and are willing to pay for a companion to accompany you on your trip(s) I am available. Meantime, I can recommend the Science Museum in London.


  1. Gary....I'm hurt. I would have loved to have joined you at the Science Museum, not just to view the space stuff but to see you and Mrs Kitsch as well.

    I have been there many times but it would have been an extra-special trip with you as you are clearly something of an expert on the subject....more than I gave you credit for.

    I first saw a replica Lunar Module many, many years ago. Happy days - in fact, this was one of those fond memories I mentioned many blogs back. I can still remember thinking how small it actually was, which is in complete contrast to what you thought about the size ! I had always imagined it to be much larger when I saw it on tv. I also wondered how all the bacofoil had stayed intact for so long ?

    I also bought several souvenir postcards (which are stuck in an album somewhere at mum and dad's as I used to be into deltiology...look it up ) and some of those models. I believe they came in a long transparent plastic tube at the time. Ah. Happy days....again.

    Well, my first reaction to this entry was "Oh no", at realising I missed out on a trip that would bring back many happy childhood memories but has ended with a smile on my face for almost the very same reason!

    Cheers Gary. I salute you.

    Love you always.
    Auntie x x x

  2. Unfortunately, operational parameters excluded additional rendezvous as part of this mission. This was due in part on medical grounds as both crew members were suffering with painful feet before the mission got underway, leading to doubts surrounding crew moral during the extended EVAs; there was uncertainty surrounding IMAX and Force Field scheduling; also consideration needed to be given to cutting short the primary mission to possibly include completion of a secondary mission (i.e. the V&A quilt exhibition) which meant all mission scheduling had to be open ended; and finally the scheduled rendezvous with Pilot Pete was a complicated manoeuvre requiring total crew focus. Therefore it was considered that a secondary rendezvous, though desirable, was not a viable option. However, a rendezvous assignment is an achievable goal for the next mission. Mission Control out.

  3. Believe me, Christine, you really didn't want to be there. About an hour taking photos of the capsule alone, for starters....

  4. You look so happy in that first photo. Bless your little cotton socks.

  5. You have no idea! I was so chuffed. I'd been looking forward to that moment for so long. If I ever get to Kennedy Space Centre you will not be able to wipe the smile off my face for a month.

  6. Hi Gary, I must admit I was a little awestruck myself when I saw the actual capsule at my first visit to the museum. Saw a lot of things that satisfied the geeky spacenut in me, and to see the capsule was just superb. To see (and cheekily touch) something that had been to another world was brilliant. And I agree with you on KSC, I don't think I'd want to come home if I ever managed to go.

    Best wishes,