Blast Off! At UK National Space Centre Leicester
If Jupiter was a giant supermarket trolley, you could pile 1,200 Earths into it. But you couldn’t take it through the ten items or less checkout. There’s a whole galaxy of facts like this you can take home from the National Space Centre in Leicester along with hydrated food from the shop. But the main fact I take away is that toddlers and tweens really, really like space. Here’s our review of a visit we made as part of our sponsored Days Inn Days Out road trip.….
From the moment they enter and see the Soyuz – Russia’s manned spacecraft, they are all moonface. And that’s before anyone tells them they can drink blue goo milkshake under the burners of a rocket. To say this museum is designed for kids is an understatement. Take a look at our video and you’ll see what I mean.
We are all stars
Perhaps children are always going to be more in tune with the stars, they were, after all, only atoms just a handful of years ago whereas we’ve been around on this planet a while. But this museum caters for them in a way that many don’t; from the front doors that look like the sealed doors of a spacecraft to the machines that transform you into an alien and the fully animated film in the planetarium voiced by Gollum himself – Andy Serkis.
Stars and slides
Everywhere I look a child is descending from a black hole, selecting a star to see how it lives, playing a giant version of Guess Who Has Walked On The Moon, reading the news, seeing themselves in infrared, slotting their small heads into man sized and mini me astronaut suits and trying to lift baked bean cans in space.
I was three years old and remember my parents camped around the TV with flasks. I must have fallen asleep as sadly I don’t remember the actual landing! – Alison Lidy, Portsmouth
Art and artefacts
It all adds up to a level of noise and chaos I haven’t seen in a while. But it’s often well policed and organised chaos. There are marshalled, time scheduled queues for the planetarium, well advertised science slots and loads of supervised fun. We can make a constellation telescope out of paper, or an alien parachute lander. We can accept an alien egg challenge. We can take an artifact taster tour and hold some space artifacts from the vaults.
A University project
And when I say it’s all about the kid, there’s plenty to entertain an adult if you don’t mind the noise of rockets going off, planets spinning and launch simulations kicking off just about everywhere you look. Because this is no haphazard fun factory. It’s a physical and intellectual journey of our obsession with space and sending man into the outer reaches of it.
But why Leicester? The initiative came about through Leicester University, which has been active in space science for a long while. It led a bid for the Space Centre to become the Millennium Commission’s landmark project for the East Midlands, working with a Space Research Centre that opened in the 1990’s. Researchers now collaborate with organisations including NASA and ESA, even though they seem light years away from this urban kid-friendly attraction.
Space for hoarders
If you are a fact hoarder there’s a lot for you here. Much of it interactive. You can do Drake’s Equation, or follow a graphic timeline of the space race month by month and year by year, noting for example, what space developments happened in the year when Mattel invented a Ken to keep Barbie company. You can see things from the point of view of the Russians, the Americans and the dogs. Oh and there’s also the story of the mice; three Able Rockets launched with lone mice in their nose cones in 1958. While one perished the others survived their journey although they were never recovered. I guess it’s like a needle in a haystack looking for a nose cone containing Minnie in a galaxy of stars.
The excitement in the air at Framlington Primary school that we were going to be able to watch TV during school hours…oh and by the way….man had got to the moon – M.C.
Looking up into the skies
From the outside the building isn’t pretty and it’s surrounded by a concrete car park. But the colourful displays and exhibits draw you in as soon as you enter, and if you look up you’ll be rewarded with all manner of kit and models. In the main atrium is full scale model of the Giotto – the European Space Agency device that ‘flew through the tail of Halley’s comet and gave us our first close up images of the comet’s icy heart.’ To my uninformed eye it looks a little like a disco ball. There’s also the nose cone of the original British Blue Streak Rocket, the upper stage of the Thor Able Rocket and a half scale model of Orion-1.
Everyone here is enthusiastic about space. “We’re printing out a whole 3D scale model of the international space station over the course of the holiday just so we can show people how technology works,” says Josh who is working in the Science Zone. “We are probably going to take another two or three weeks; we are averaging about module per day. We’ve done most of the major bits so we’re now getting on to the solar panels and bits like that.”
I ask him if it’s a bit like building the Millennium Falcon out of Lego. “It is going to be a bit like giant Lego which is kind of why we are doing it as we like to build things.” he grins. “It’s going to be pretty much as it was launched, all the separate pieces, and then we are going to slot it all together to finish it all off.”
Metal and meteor
This building is filled with metal and meteor. There are chunks of the Moon and Mars in small glass cases. (Yes really- the piece of Martian meteorite fell to earth near an Egyptian village in 1911.) There are tons of spacecraft, infrared cameras, satellites and more technology than you can ever get your head around. But for me it’s the human stories that have an impact. In one tiny corner of the museum there’s a 1950’s living room. And in one corner of this living room, opposite the telly, visitors to the centre have written down their memories of the space race and where they were when man landed on the moon. I have scattered a few of their musings through this post. They are personal and touching.
On the men walking on the moon my old Gran didn’t believe it was true. She said don’t always believe what the Americans say – the brag a lot! Had us in stitches laughing – Jan Tisdell
A human story
And on a similar theme, while space is about meteorites and aliens, what I learn from this museum is that our quest to conquer space is purely human. And like everything, we may think we can control it, but we can’t. A piece of information just left of the planets and just right of the stars reminds me how insignificant we are. “The dust from which we’re made was smeared thinly through space when a star exploded at the end of its life. And that’s where we’ll end up when our sun explodes at the end of its life. Back in the cosmic dust recycling system.”
Watched in Pepe’s Bar, Magaluf, Majorca, drinking Bacardi and coke, as a 21 year old. Quite fantastic – Dez
Visit before you are dust
If you’re in Leicester, visit the Space Centre. And take the kids. You’re going to be in the cosmic Dyson for a very long time, so you much as well have some fun before you get sucked in. And one day they might be thanking you for it like this:
My Uncle John took me to Jodrell Bank in Cheshire to watch the moon landing. I remember a huge chamber – it was dark and full of people. A huge cheer rang out when they landed. When Neil Armstrong went down the ladder we couldn’t hear what he said at the time because of the celebrations. I will never forget it. Bless you Uncle John
The National Space Centre is just off the A6, two miles north from Leicester city centre and is situated, quite appropriately on Exploration Drive. It takes a good half day to see the centre. You can feed the kids in the café or there’s a picnic area if you want to save money. The place emptied out towards the end of the day so go later if you don’t like noisy environments.
The planetarium is free with your ticket; book a time slot to see the show when you first arrive. There’s often a choice of two different shows at weekends.
Opening hours and prices
Opening times are 10-17.00 Sunday to Friday and 10.00-16.00 on a Saturday.
In 2017 entrance for adults is £14.00 and kids cost £11.00 and you can book in advance online or pay at the door. Car parking is £3 for the day. If you book online you can upgrade to a free annual pass.
Where we stayed
Going on a family holiday in the UK is very simple with Days Inn; there are more than 40 hotels located all across the country. Days Inn, Leicester Forest East is conveniently situated on the M1 Northbound and is just a 15 minute drive from the National Space Centre. The roadside hotel is part of the Welcome Break services with easy access to facilities, making it a good rest stop option for a family road trip.
For a fee, a continental style breakfast is available in the hotel itself or you can take a discounted cooked breakfast in the Food Court at the services next door. The Harry Ramsden’s cooked breakfast set us up for our journey into space. All rooms have tea and coffee, and flat-screen TV. There is 24 hour reception, complimentary Wi-Fi and free parking. Families can request an extra bed for a child. Well behaved dogs are welcome.
Disclosure Note: This post is part of our #DaysInn #DaysOut Road Trip, a collaboration sponsored by Days Inn to promote great days out within easy reach of Days Inn hotels. We visited four Days Inns for four great British Days Out. The choice of days out, views, experience, opinions, photography and videography produced are all our own. Our entry to the National Space Centre was provided for the purpose of this review. Our journey into space was entirely our own.