One of the high points of my life is my visit to The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. You can see real Sputniks, for heaven’s sake. Russian space dogs. Yuri Gagarin‘s school exercise books. Not everything is translated into English, but most of the important stuff is and the rest speaks for itself. Look! This is history!
Besides, there aren’t many other places in the world where you can walk inside a Mir spaceship.
The museum is on Prospekt Mira (Peace Avenue), at the VDNKh metro station, and fairly unmissable as it lies beneath a colossal obelisk: The Monument to the Conquerors of the Cosmos.
This titanium structure immortalises a rocket ship straight out of a 1950s pulp-fiction magazine. Off the rocket zooms while, below, Lenin leads the proletariat over the new frontier, with a baby at the front of the queue. This is what we were dreaming, back then. Sputnik was the future: socialism in space.
The museum celebrates the great leaps forwards in space exploration and all the Russian firsts — first satellite in space, first animal in space, first man in space and earth orbit, first woman in space — though the USA’s first — man on the moon — is indeed acknowledged, and there are American gifts of spacesuits and moon dust.
I was moved to see the personal logbooks of Valentina Tereshkova (my childhood hero), the real Belka and Strelka, the first two living things who went into space and came back (now taxidermied dogs in little glass cases). Laika, of course, a stray from the streets of Moscow who became the first animal to orbit the Earth, never made it back alive.
Best of all: a tiny burned-from-re-entry Soyuz capsule with a notice on the outside in several languages explaining how to open the door, if found by a passing goat-herd in the Urals. It brought home to me how risky this race was. The pioneers went into space with two bits of string, a welding set, and less technology than we nowadays have in our phones.
They were hugely brave.