Cosmonauts - Birth of the Space Age: Ten images from the Russian Race for Space

| 21 May 2015

The most significant collection of Russian spacecraft and artefacts ever to be shown in the UK will star in Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, a new exhibition opening at the Science Museum on September 18 2015. Here are ten images highlighting some of the remarkable objects and stories in the exhibition

Alexei Leonov: artist and cosmonaut

a painting of an cosmonaut doing a space walk
Alexei Leonov, Over the Black Sea (1973). Oil on canvas© The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics
Alexei Leonov painted this self-portrait after his 1965 spacewalk. It shows him orbiting above the Black Sea and is his most famous artwork - a statement of the complex relationship between a man and his planet.

Yuri Gagarin

A colour photo of Yuri Gagarin in space suit strapped into his space craft cockpit
Yuri Gagarin before the first space flight (April 12 1961)© RIA Novosti
During his historic Vostok-1 mission, Gagarin wore an SK-1 suit which comprised undergarments, a pressure suit and an orange-coloured over garment. The CCCP lettering on the helmet was a late addition to indicate the cosmonaut’s nationality, in case Russians at the landing site mistook him for an American.

Russian hero

a Russian poster with a cosmonaut and spaceship dated 1961
Boris Staris, "The fairy tale became truth" (1961). Published by The Young Guard (Molodaya Gvardia)© Photo: Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. c. Unknown
This poster celebrates the pioneering mission of Yuri Gagarin, on April 12 1961. The style blends the realistic with the abstract: Gagarin’s features are recognisable yet he holds the light of the cosmos in his hand and his rocket is heavily stylised, which disguises also its classified status.

Dogs in space

a photo of a contraption containing a dog
Dog ejector seat and suit as used on Soviet suborbital rocket flights (circa 1955) (engineering model). The open joint-stock company, Research, Development and Production Enterprise “Zvezda”’© Photo: State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO
Before Gagarin made his manned space flight, dogs were launched on high altitude rocket flights during the 1950s. Each dog was ejected from the rocket during descent and fell to Earth by parachute. These trials helped in the development of life support systems for the first animal and human orbital missions that came later.

Space Art

a Russian political poster with a red clad figure reaching up to space
Iraklii Toidze, "In the name of peace" (1959). Published by IZOGIZ© The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, c. Unknown
Soviet posters had long promoted national triumphs, urging citizens to continue in their service of the Motherland. Toidze’s poster celebrates one of the Luna missions, possibly Luna-1, which passed by the Moon in January 1959. It recreates one of his most famous designs from the start of the Great Patriotic War, calling on the people to enlist and serve their country.

The first Vostok cosmonauts

a photo of a cosmonaut figure in an ejector seat
Vostok VZA ejection seat (engineering model) and SK Suit as used on Vostoks 1–6 (1961-1963)© The open joint-stock company ‘Research, Development & Production Enterprise “Zvezda”’ / Photo: State Museum and Exhibition Center ROSIZO
The first cosmonauts ejected from their returning Vostok spacecraft at altitude and completed their descent to Earth by parachute. The spacecraft design meant that the speed of descent would have been too fast for cosmonauts to survive the impact with the ground. Male Vostok cosmonauts wore the SK-1 suit, Valentina Tereshkova wore the SK-2.

Vostok-6 descent module

a photo of a battered pod with interior furniture
Valentina Tereshkova’s Vostok-6 descent module (1963). The open joint-stock company, Rocket and Space Corporation Energia after S P Korolev© Photo: State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO
This is the actual craft in which Valentina Tereshkova flew into space, the first woman ever to do so. She spent almost three days orbiting Earth and remains the second youngest person ever to venture into space (Gherman Titov is the youngest).

The first Russian mannequin in Space

a photo of a golden mannequin figures strapped into a metal contraption
Tissue-Equivalent Phantom Mannequin flown around the Moon on Zond-7 (1969)© The Polytechnic Museum. Photo: State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO
This surrogate cosmonaut has small recesses set into its body designed to contain radiation sensors. The aim of the Zond mission in 1969 was to estimate the effects of cosmic radiation on living tissue. The mannequin was flown again in 1970 on the Cosmos-368 mission around Earth. Its face was made in the image of Yuri Gagarin.

Washing in space

a photo of a circular shower cubicle with plastic sheeting
MIR space station shower (circa 1990)© The open joint-stock company ‘Research, Development &Production Enterprise “Zvezda”’ / Photo: State Museum and Exhibition Centre ROSIZO
This type of shower was trialled on the Mir space station. It used a stream of air to pull the water over the bather. However, in practice the cosmonauts preferred to wash themselves with wet wipes because readying the shower, using it and then clearing up was so time consuming.

Space suit of a British cosmonaut

A photo of an astronaut's suit
SOKOL space suit worn by Helen Sharman in 1991, manufactured by Zvezda© Science Museum / SSPL
Britain's first cosmonaut‚ Helen Sharman, wore this spacesuit during her outward and return flights to and from the Mir space station as part of the Soviet Juno Mission in 1991. Helen was measured in 54 different places to ensure the suit fitted perfectly.

  • Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age, is at the Science Museum from September 18 2015 until March 13 2016. See for more information.

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