I once had to reluctantly cancel a trip to the US to visit the Smithsonian, but here just a few metres from where I have been staying in London, I at last get to go geeky over space travel.
The Science Museum holds a tremendous space section. I join a free tour taken by an effervescent volunteer, Paul, who for 40 minutes spouts an impressive repertoire of facts, figures and humorous anecdotes.
The section begins with the precussor to the space race, the German V2 bomber. The rocket visited terrible damage on Britain in WW2. It was developed first at a site on the Baltic Coast and was later secreted in the Hartz mountains.
Post the war, the allies scrambled to muster the best and the brightest German engineers with Wernher von Braun, a leading light in the V2 development, joining the US contingent.
The Soviets were the first however to launch a man into space, Yuri Gagarin, in 1961, using the V2 technology. This prompted a promise by President Kennedy to have a man on the moon by the end of the decade, so the Cold War space race was on.
We see the original Apollo 10 Command module on display that three astronauts folded themselves into for the final dry run to circle the moon in 1969, before the actual moon landing by Apollo 11.
Also on display is the replica of the ‘Eagle’ that Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon later in 1969.
I miss by minutes the start of the IMAX space film narrated by Jennifer Lawrence screening that day, and have to finish with a rather hokey Apollo ‘ride’ instead.
There are hours of more exhibits to see including an interesting flight section upstairs. Book yourself at least a day for this wonderful museum and even that will only scratch the surface.