A day at the National Space Centre

October 14, 2009 Off By Chris Hinton

Did you know the UK has a National Space Centre? I didn’t, until I was driving up from my parents’ house to Yorkshire and passing by Leicester. The rocket-ship signs caught my attention and we decided to stop for a look round.
What we found was a complete surprise, driving into what looked like an industrial estate to be met with a huge bulbous tower that houses a Blue Streak and a Thor Able rocket. Even a trip into the reception to buy your ticket is worth a look, as suspended above your head is one of the most complete specimens of Soyuz capsule to be found in the west.

One of the most complete Soyuz capsules in the West

One of the most complete Soyuz capsules in the West

Once you’re inside there’s a nice mix of exhibitions telling you about the history and science of space travel, from the physics of rocketry to Gallileo’s discoveries (and trial), and some great information about current and future developments. But if pure education’s not your thing, there are also genuine space suits on display, the Soyuz Capsule I’ve already mentioned, and various other spacecraft hanging from the ceilings for you to look at. There’s even a full-sized recreation of a Mercury Capsule (it was very cramped) and of the Columbus module of the International Space Station (my 2yr old daughter loved pushing all the buttons).
One of the highlights for me was entering “Tranquility Base”, supposedly a base on the moon designed to test candidates for long-haul space flights. There are simulators to test whether you can jump in low gravity, could operate critical systems under stress, operate mining machinery, and control a spacecraft in low gravity… which is very, very hard! These can all be operated by children, so don’t expect hyper-realism here, but the best bit has to be the simulator of a flight from the moon to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Being shot from a launch tube and eventually making a very bumpy landing was great fun!
The centre's Blue Streak and Thor Able rockets from above

The centre’s Blue Streak and Thor Able rockets from above

Finally, there’s a gift shop and cafe. Usually these places are vastly overpriced for food, but the cafe was actually pretty reasonable… a very nice surprise.
So if you’re passing through or near Leicester, and if you’re interested in space travel at all, drop in to the National Space Centre. It’s well worth a visit!
The National Space Centre is on Exploration Drive, Leicester. There is a £2 charge for parking, and entry costs £12.72 for adults, or £10.77 for concessions. Please check the Space Centre website before you go, just to ensure these details haven’t changed since writing.