Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 85

Submission from the Science Museum


  This submission to the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons Inquiry into Space Policy outlines:

  1.  the Science Museum's history of displaying and interpreting space;

  2.  the Museum visitors' perennial interest in the subject of space;

  3.  the utility of "space" in enthusing young people to pursue science and/or technology orientated careers;

  4.  the Museum's role in explaining the ubiquitous uses of space technologies.

1.  Space Exploration displays and interpretations at the Science Museum

  1.1  The Science Museum has been representing space exploration for its  many millions of visitors for five decades.

  1.2  The Museum's first "Space Age" exhibition was mounted in 1957 to mark the International Geophysical Year during which the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 was launched.

  1.3  From the mid 1960s the Museum had had a permanent space display and from 1986 a complete gallery devoted to the subject.

  1.4  Star objects on display include the Apollo 10 command module, Helen Sharman's spacesuit, engineering models of satellites and probes,  Black Arrow and Scout launch vehicles as well as UK and US rocket engines.

  1.5  The Museum will be re-opening its entire Space Gallery in the spring of 2007 as part of a new, reconfigured space display.

  1.6  The Museum interprets the subject of space exploration and exploitation in many other ways including lectures, talks, dramatic performances, web narratives, competitions, outreach and so on.

2.  Visitor interest in Space Exploration

  2.1  The subject of space is perennially popular with a great number of our visitors and especially with our younger ones including those on the hundreds of thousands of school visits made to the Museum each year.

  2.2  A significant proportion of our visiting teachers embrace the subject as something that can be used to assist in the teaching of school science including the National Curriculum.

  2.3  The Museum has long championed the use of educational resources for teachers and we shall be exploiting the new space display accordingly.

3.  Space as a tool for enthusing prospective scientists and technologists

  3.1  The Museum is not alone in understanding the import and worth of the subject of space in the teaching of science: the main industrial and research organizations who are supporting the re-display are, like the Museum, seeking to target the Key Stage 2-4 age groups so that the subject can be utilized to stimulate and enthuse those young people who are deciding on exam options and subjects for tertiary study.

  3.2  "Space", perhaps more than any other subject, is able to stimulate interest in science and technology.

  3.3  Many, of course, will not end up working in the UK space sector but it is "space", none the less, that captures young imaginations and steers them, subtly, towards scientific and technological careers.

  3.4  The importance of such a catalyst in today's increasingly competitive economic world cannot be understated and is a quality the Museum is particularly able to cultivate and to develop.

  3.5  We are fortunate that in recent years the UK's space science activities   have become, arguably, more prolific than ever before; they have certainly developed a higher profile which the public, as far as the   Museum is able to tell from its interactions with it, is increasingly aware of and, indeed, supportive of.

  3.6  Missions to Mars (in particular) but those to the solar systems' other bodies have garnered great press and public attention and this prominence will be duly reflected in the Museum's new space display.

  3.7  The UK has never invested in any significant way in astronautical exploration (human spaceflight) but there is little doubt that this particular aspect of space endeavour is of great interest to all of our audiences and especially the young.

  3.8  Whenever visiting astronauts and cosmonauts talk to school and other parties of young people at the Museum the audience reactions are consistently ones of attentiveness and fascination.

  3.9  Some sort of UK involvement in Nasa's plans to return to the Moon would undoubtedly capture the interest of and provide educational stimulation for a whole new generation to whom the Apollo missions are but history that is read about or memories recounted by parents and grandparents.

4.  The ubiquitous applications of space technologies

  4.1  The Science Museum's new space display will also attempt to alert more of the public to the UK's increasing but still relatively unrecognized investment in space technologies that deliver tangible, terrestrial benefits.

  4.2  There will be displays that convey something of the sheer numbers of   satellites that are orbiting Earth and assisting with communications, navigation, meteorology, climate change studies and a host of other terrestrial applications.

5.  Conclusion

    A trip to the Science Museum should always be fun and enjoyable but it ability to enthuse young visitors serves a far more serious role in helping to instruct them in the arts of science and technology. This is a Museum remit little changed from that which drove the organizers of the 1851 Great Exhibition—progenitor of all of South Kensington's world-leading scientific, technological and cultural institutions. Space   offers a unique tool with which to deliver inspiring scientific and technological displays and events and the presence of a healthy UK space sector both enables and feeds off this energy and enthusiasm.

January 2007

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 17 July 2007