The Baker Street Planetarium is to close. Then reopen as a history of celebrities. If ever there were a sign of the times…
Space is not something the capital does well.
This Londonista remembers, as a child, being enthralled by the Science Museum’s space gallery. The model rockets, the lifesize lunar module replica, the space food. The actual capsule used by the Apollo 10 crew to fly to the moon and back (and that one's not even in the space gallery). But while giant leaps have been made above the planet, the gallery has barely changed in over a decade.
One particularly sorry example.
Tucked away in the furthest most obscure corner is a superb model of the Hubble Space Telescope. This should surely form the centrepiece of a dazzling display of imagery and information about the cosmos. An inspiration to the young and old alike showing the wonders of nature and the limitless bounds of human ingenuity. Instead, the only accompanying information is a 20 year-old panel from which we learn that the Hubble telescope ‘is expected to expand the observable universe’. Note the tense. Belatedly, a small blue sticker informs us that the telescope was successfully launched in 1990. And that’s it. Would it really cost that much to put a few photos on the wall and make a fresh information label?
Hardly anyone realises it, but we’re currently in a golden age of space exploration. In the past year, scientists have landed a probe on a moon of Saturn, returned material from a comet, launched fresh probes to Mars, Venus, Mercury and Pluto. Not to forget the two remote controlled buggies still pottering about on the surface of Mars. Private companies stand on the threshold of regularly launching paying passengers into space. And many nations, spurred on by the USA, are now planning manned trips to the moon and beyond.
All this in just the past year, while the US shuttle is effectively grounded. Historians will have much to say about this era.
We need to find space for space in our museums and galleries. When presented well, it is a topic that inspires more than any other. And at a time when large numbers of children are reportedly utterly turned off by science lessons, we need to motivate, or else stagnate.
One beacon of spacey goodness. The Royal Observatory Greenwich is currently building its own planetarium, due to open in around a year. Let’s hope it’s a stellar success, and doesn’t convert to astrology or sci-fi worship when the economic pressures of pop culture come knocking.