Above and Beyond at the National Maritime Museum: A place to let your inner kid run wild

By Rachel Teskey | 31 May 2016

Launched by former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson, Greenwich's newest display has been billed as a groundbreaking journey into flight and space journeys

A photo of a young museum visitor looking at objects from space history as part of the Above and Beyond exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London
© National Maritime Museum, London
In the august surroundings of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, a rather unusual exhibition is taking place. Above and Beyond bills itself as “the ultimate interactive flight exhibition” and has toured in the US and the Middle East before coming in to land at the National Maritime Museum.

At first glance, Above and Beyond feels more a video game arcade than an exhibition. But it’s hard not to get drawn in – who hasn’t wondered what it would be like to fly like a bird, or blast off on a mission to Mars?

An impressive range of interactives allows you to do just that – and much more. As you’d expect from an exhibition developed in collaboration with Boeing and NASA, these are no run-of-the-mill interactives. Gesture recognition technology and 4D cinema techniques create immersive simulations that give the experience a real edge.

A photo of a young museum visitor looking at objects from space history as part of the Above and Beyond exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London
© National Maritime Museum, London
As well as being great fun, these exhibits are rooted in hard science: Above and Beyond is structured around the themes Higher, Faster, Farther, Smarter, and explores how technology and innovative thinking is turning science fiction into reality.

A digital timeline at the start of the exhibition is easily missed in the rush to get a spot on one of the flashier interactives, but is well worth spending some time with. It charts our obsession with flight and space flight, from the first unpiloted steam powered model aeroplane in 1896 and the first commercial aircraft with a pressurised cabin in 1940 to the first photograph taken of Earth from deep space, in 1968, and the incredible feats of technology taking place today.

Aeronautics is producing new inventions at an astonishing rate, like the 3D-printed prototype fighter jet and the tiny reconnaissance drone with dragonfly-delicate wings both on display here.  The exhibition gives an insight into the process though interviews with young people working in the industry and displays that reveal the amount of testing and redesigning that is required to create a successful model.

A photo of a young museum visitor looking at objects from space history as part of the Above and Beyond exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London
© National Maritime Museum, London
Some of the concepts featured, such as a space elevator that would take you 33,000 miles above Earth, seem like distant dreams. In reality, they are much closer than we might think.

The exhibition explains some of the small developments that are making a big difference - such as super-light materials and nanotechnology - and shows how they will help us not only to achieve the seemingly impossible, but will also improve our lives in more relatable ways through more efficient manufacturing and faster air travel.

All of this aims to inspire the scientists, astronauts and engineers of the future. The exhibition gives a taste of different professions: you can try your hand at designing and racing your own fighter jet, create a drone to carry out missions on earth and in outer space, experiment with aerodynamics in a miniature wind tunnel and discover the realities of life on a mission to Mars.

This is an exhibition with big aspirations and much more scientific clout than it might initially appear. But above all, it is a place to let your imagination, and your inner kid, run wild.

  • Exhibition runs until August 29 2016. Tickets £6-£9 (family ticket £26). Book online. Use the hashtag #flightexhibition.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a young museum visitor looking at objects from space history as part of the Above and Beyond exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London
© Boeing
A photo of a young museum visitor looking at objects from space history as part of the Above and Beyond exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London
© Boeing
A photo of a young museum visitor looking at objects from space history as part of the Above and Beyond exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London
© Boeing
A photo of a young museum visitor looking at objects from space history as part of the Above and Beyond exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London
© National Maritime Museum, London
A photo of a young museum visitor looking at objects from space history as part of the Above and Beyond exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in London
© Boeing
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