We have lift-off, NASA – A Human Adventure opens today

19 11 2016

Space exploration, fuelled by the cold war rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, made significant progress in the 1950s and 1960s. As a child of the 1960s, I was caught up in its excitement of it and especially of its most significant outcome – the landing of the first man on the moon in July 1969. The space programmes that led to the landing had itself generated huge interest during the decade. It was a space exploration flavoured decade in many ways and I took great satisfaction in rocket shaped ice-lollies, ice-cream packed in a Mercury spacecraft inspired container and on getting my hands on moon-landing inspired action transfer sets. For a child it seemed a most exciting of times; times that certainly came back to me visiting a preview of NASA – A Human Adventure, which opens today (19 November 2016) at the ArtScience Museum.


A Mercury Spacecraft, the first US manned spacecraft.


The exhibition, which is arranged around five galleries, takes visitors into a fascinating journey through space exploration and starts with the dreams humankind had long had of venturing into the unknown. There is an amazing collection of over 200 artefacts on display, several of which have flown in space, connected with both the Soviet and the NASA efforts. There also is get a chance to get up close to several training modules and full or large scale reconstructions of space craft including one of the Space Shuttle’s front section in which the flight deck and the mid-deck – where the crew eats, sleeps and works, complete with a vacuum toilet.


The first gallery – which tells us all about the Dreamers.


A re-creation of the Space Shuttle’s Flight Deck.

The Space Race, prompted by the Cold War rivalry between the Soviet Union and the US, is well documented in the second gallery, Go Fever. The intense rivalry provided much impetus for the rapid progress made by both countries in  space exploration and resulted in the first manned flights and the eventual moon landing. A model of Sputnik, the first satellite, which started the Space Race in earnest is on display. The early lead that the Soviets took is also seen in several rarely seen Soviet space artefacts and in a remembrance of the first human in space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.


A model of Sputnik – the very first artificial satellite, launched by the Soviet Union. The reflection on it is that of Go Fever, the second gallery.


The Soviet Space programme put the first man in Space – Yuri Gagarin, who is remembered in Go Fever.


Soviet space programme artefacts – including a briefcase carried by Yuri Gagarin into space.

The exhibition has three other galleries, Pioneers, Endurance and Innovation – tracing the evolution of rocket technology, how the challenges of space travel were overcome and how ground breaking technologies have been created through the programme. There is also a rather interesting art installation, The Indonesia Space Science Society by Indonesian artist, Venzha Christ that includes a 3 metre sculpture and invites visitors to listen to space.


A scale-model of the very long Saturn V rocket.


The Jupiter nose cone – launched into space and recovered from the sea – the experimental nose cone was a crucial step in development of re-entry vehicles – necessary for manned space flights.


Titan I LR-87 rocket engine.


The installation by Venzha Christ.

A highlight of the exhibition is the G-Force Astronaut Trainer ride, which simulates the flight of the 1961 Liberty Bell 7 with forces of up to 2G. The ride takes up to four and costs $6 on weekdays (Mondays to Thursdays) and $9 during the weekends.


The G-Force Astronaut Trainer Ride.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the ArtScience Museum is also running the Art and Science of Space season. Several programmes are lined up including an Insights Tour during the opening weekend, given by Jukka Nurminen – an avid aeronautics enthusiast and the producer and curator of the exhibition. Two sessions will be held at 11.30am  lasting an hour on 19 and 20 Nov, which will be complimentary to ticket holders but limited to 25 per session (stickers will be given out 5 minutes before the tour begins). There are also public guided tours on 25 Nov at 3-4pm and on 27 Nov at 11.30am-12.30pm. A series of workshops will also be held. The exhibition runs until 19 March 2017 and more information on it, its programmes and ticketing can be found at the exhibition’s website.


Jukka Nurminen, Producer and Curator of the exhibition.

More exhibits:




A Soviet lunar vehicle.


Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle.


Moon rock collection case, bags, a glove and a boot.



An Apollo survival kit.


Command compartment of a Gemini Spacecraft.


A command module.


Apollo Command Module.


Space Shuttle front section.


An actual unused leg for the Apollo lunar landing module


Film shot by Apollo astronauts.


A Hasselblad camera of the type used for lunar operations.


TV camera of type used for lunar operations.


Lithium hydroxide canister for removing carbon dioxide. This featured in the Apollo 13 near tragedy that left the Command Module with limited electricity supply. To save power in the Command Module that was crucial for reentry, the Lunar Module was kept attached as a “lifeboat”. The Lunar Module did not have sufficient LiOH canisters and ground engineers very quickly found a way make join the rectangular canisters from the Command Module to the cylindrical canisters of the Lunar Module.


An flight computer – which weighed about 100 kg.


A photograph of the Apollo Lunar Module.


A replica of the module with the triangular window seen in the photograph above.


An actual Command Module parachute for descent back to earth – notice the burns from reentry on it.


A heavily built Command Module front hatch.


Models of Hubble and the ISS.

A Russian swallow and a Singaporean cypher officer

29 04 2011

The Cold War was a period that now seems a distant past. Its end, not so long ago, came with the demise of the Soviet dominated bloc of Communist States in the early 1990s. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, the playing out of the Cold War was very much in evidence. This was seen in even in the space race, which might have seen to have been won by the free world with the first lunar landing at the end of the 1960s.

There were also the many tales of espionage. While much that was read was of the fictional variety told – found in the many books and movies featuring the likes of Secret Agent 007 and through the much read novels of John le Carré, the were also real-life dramas that surfaced from time to time. One  that caught my attention – when I was in my teenage years –involved a Bulgarian dissident and playwright Georgi Markov. Markov, living in exile in London and on his way home from work at the BBC’s offices during rush hour, was killed in a James Bond like fashion. Waiting at a bus stop at Waterloo Bridge, he felt a stinging pain in his thigh after he had been jabbed by an umbrella. He thought nothing of the incident, and continued on his way home, dying three days later. It was later established that the umbrella a Bulgarian agent had stabbed him with had been modified to fire a pinhead sized pellet containing a poison, ricin by the KGB. KGB, an acronym synonymous with Soviet espionage stood for Komitet Gosudarsvenoy Bezopanosti or the Committee for State Security –  the Soviet secret service.

There were also tales that were more lurid. One that was very well known to me even if it preceded my arrival into the world, dubbed the Profumo affair, was made into a movie entitled Scandal in 1989. That incident involved a setting typical of spy thrillers of a fictional nature with its cast of society girls, people in high places, spiced up by ingredients of sex and deceit. It main character was an up and coming politician in the Conservative set up and the Secretary of State for War by the name of John Profumo. His affair with Christine Keeler, reputedly the mistress of a suspected Soviet spy and his denial of it in the House of Common, not only brought him down but was also instrumental in Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s resignation.

We were not insulated from such incidents even in tiny Singapore. One that came to light in 1980 involved a rather innocent looking cypher officer with our Embassy in Moscow. The cypher officer, was contacted by a certain Luba Lubov Maluba, about a year into his May 1978 posting to Moscow on the pretext that she was a friend of the previous occupant of the apartment in which the cypher officer, his wife and young daughter were living in. It would turn out that Maluba to whom the cypher officer fell prey, was a “swallow” – a female agents trained to seduce susceptible foreign men with the aim of blackmailing them to obtain information. In the course of their interactions, the cypher officer would pass transcripts of decoded messages to Maluba and later, settings for the cypher machine. He was only found out when he was arrested for trying to smuggle religious icons out of the Soviet Union to Finland and was recalled to Singapore where he confessed to the CID. The cypher officer was charged and jailed for a total of 10 years. More of the tale can be found in the online Straits Times archives.