The Science Museum celebrates the 60th anniversary of the day when British scientists launched the Skylark rocket programme with an exhibition that tells the remarkable story behind the project.
The Skylark project began at the height of the Cold War to inform military research, especially in the development of the Blue Streak ballistic missile. However the scientific value of Skylark became apparent to researchers who were keen to use the rocket to learn more about the Earth, Sun and deep space.
One of the great advantages of the Skylark rocket was that it could travel way beyond the height of scientific balloons and could be used for a range of experiments during its 10-minute flight time when it was in space. The results would be recorded on board and then parachuted back to Earth for recovery.
Most Skylark rockets were launched from the South Australian desert and conditions could be challenging but the relative simplicity of Skylark made it ideal for training space scientists. Many leading space scientists (some attended the launch of the exhibition) from university professors to Space Shuttle astronauts, started their space careers with Skylark.
The exhibition includes archive footage of Skylark flights and interviews with the space scientists who used it and helped to build it. There is a model of the Skylark rocket and a number of objects that tell the technical story of how designing experiments for Skylark gave scientists the experience and expertise to work on future space missions including the Ariel 1 satellite and the Giotto spacecraft.
Remarkably, Britain launched a total of 441 Skylark missions over 50 years, making it one of the longest and most successful rocket programmes in the world. Some of the Skylark missions provided the first X-ray surveys of the southern sky and some of the earliest ultraviolet images of the cosmos.
This fascinating small free exhibition tells the little known story of Britain’s first space rocket and how Skylark laid the foundations for Britain’s space science programmes both in technology and training some of Britain’s top space scientists. Whilst Skylark was overshadowed by the American and Soviet space programmes, its relatively simplicity enabled scientists to explore a wide range of scientific questions in a number of new scientific areas. It was these experiments that laid the foundations for Britain’s later more prestigious space science programmes and the design and building of satellites.
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Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information, visit the Science Museum website here
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