Craig recommends… Here’s my latest Science Museum review. If you like space then try the Royal Observatory and Planetarium. The Natural History Museum also bits about the solar system. You can find some more early inventions at the Design Museum, and airplanes at the RAF Museum and Imperial War Museum. For more about medicine try the Fleming Museum, Florence Nightingale Museum and Old Operating Theatre.
The Science Museum is No.4 in our list of London’s most visited attractions, No.4 in our list of London’s best museums, No.6 in our list of best free attractions in London, and No.10 in our list of London’s top children’s attractions.
The Science Museum explores ideas and inventions from the dawn of time to the space-age, using historic models and plenty of push-button displays.
The Energy Hall and Making the Modern World galleries showcase some of with machines that kick-started the Industrial Revolution, flike a Puffing Billy to Robert Stevenson’s steam-powered Rocket. Then you move onto motor cars with a Model T Ford and British Mini.
On the first floor you can see early examples of telecommunications like Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine (the world’s first computer) and William Cooke’s five-needle telegraph.
Then it moves onto everyday objects that we take for granted like washing machines, TVs and kettles. There’s also a fun section of failed inventions and patents that never made the grade, which invites you to guess their intention. (Not always easy!)
The Space Gallery is one of the most popular parts of the Science Museum for children, and contains life-size models of the Huygens space probe (the NASA probe that descended through Titan’s atmosphere) and the doomed Beagle probe (the one that bounced across the surface of Mars).
They’ve also got an Eagle lander sitting on the surface of the moon, an Apollo 10 Command Module, a V2 rocket, and some interactive exhibits for the kids where they can test out their astronaut skills.
The Flight Gallery is fantastic for fans of aviation. They have a hangar full of airplanes and helicopters suspended from the ceiling, from the earliest flying machines made out of wood and string, to modern-day rockets and jets.
Three of the highlights include a beautiful Spitfire, Amy Johnson’s Gipsy Moth, and John Alcock’s Vickers Vimy, which was the first aircraft to fly non-stop across the Atlantic.
The Wellcome Wing deals with cutting-edge technology, nuclear physics, quantum physics, and the latest breakthroughs in medicine. The medicine section includes a few mock-ups of doctor’s surgeries throughout the ages, from battlefield tents and slop tables onboard wooden frigates, to Victorian chemists and modern-day operating theatres.
This review originally appeared in his London blog
I have hazy memories of visiting the Science Museum when I was a kid, and pressing every button in the building to see what it did, but I’ve grown out of that now. I still wanted to press all the buttons, but I was too embarassed to do it because there was about ten billion screaming school kids running around. The only one I pressed all day was the one on the lift.
It was a lot better than I remembered it to be in my youth – even the boring stuff about medicine and biology was good. But first of all you have to make a dash through the Energy Hall because that is just full of steam engines and pistons and turbines and that kind of thing… stuff that goes up and down and round and round and makes a lot of noise. Not very exciting.
But then you come to the Making the Modern World gallery and it starts to get a lot better. This whole room is filled with famous machines like Stephenson’s Rocket and the Model T Ford. They’ve got an airliner hanging from the ceiling as well, and some Minis stacked up on the wall.
Then you come to my favourite section (and probably every kid’s favourite section as well): Exploring Space. They’ve got a full-size model of the lunar landing module in there – the Apollo rocket looks so flimsy it’s a wonder that it ever made it to the moon. The whole thing is covered in gold tin foil and looks about as sturdy as a Kit Kat wrapper.
I quite liked looking at the V2 rocket as well (like the ones that dropped on London). Did you know that the Nazi V2 was the first man-made object to make it into space? And it took the first photo of the Earth from space as well. Where would we be without those evil rocket-building Nazis, huh?
The space gallery also contained the only hands-on exhibit that I bothered to do (because there was no one else around). You have to stick your hands through a wall into some astronaut’s gloves, and then try and do up some nuts and bolts. I don’t mean to boast, but it was actually quite easy. Maybe I should give NASA a ring and offer them my services.
The next gallery I went into was all about boats. This basically consisted of a billion million model ships from Nelson’s HMS Victory to something that looked like the QE2. I’m not much into boats, but I’m guessing that they had every kind of boat throughout history, even back to the Roman galleys and oar-powered boats of Ancient times.
Next up was the medicine section. And yeah, I know exactly what you’re thinking… the medicine section? You’re probably thinking that it sounds boring as hell but it was actually one of my favourite galleries. What made it good wasn’t the cabinets full of pills and needles, but the life-size mock-ups of doctors’ surgeries throughout the ages. There was probably about twenty of them in total: all life-size rooms filled with waxwork doctors and patients having their bits fiddled with.
One of my favourites was the doctor’s deck of a Royal Navy ship, around the time of Trafalgar. You could see the doc holding down a screaming patient with a big thick splinter in his leg. They had models of plague-filled streets, muddy trenches from World War I, and even a modern-day operating theatre with about ten doctors doing open heart surgery on some poor wax man lying on the table. Another good one was a Victorian shop which you could actually walk inside, and see all the pills and concoctions stacked up on the shelves. It was good! So don’t forget to visit the medicine section. That was my favourite bit.
After you’ve seen all the exhibits you can visit the IMAX 3D cinema, which seems to show a lot of silly kids’ movies on for the under-5s. I’m pretty young looking, but I don’t think I could pass for under-5, so I had to give that one a miss. But I did visit the Legend of Apollo movie.
Let me sum up the Legend of Apollo movie in one word for you: it was rubbish! (Okay, so that was three words.) It was only five quid and it only lasted for 15 minutes, so you may as well give it a go, but it doesn’t live up to the hype.
When you go inside you are given some 3D glasses and the movie starts to play. When the rocket takes off the seats shake about and air is blown in your face. That is supposed to simulate what the astronauts felt when they took off in Apollo. They also blow some bubbles around the auditorium, for some reason (I still haven’t worked that one out). Then you land on the moon (more shaking) and get out and have a walk around (more shaking). Then the rocket takes off again (more shaking) and enters the Earth’s atmosphere (more shaking) and lands in the sea (water gets sprayed in your face). And then everyone gets up and goes to the cafe for a cup of tea.
> Craig’s review of Science Museum – “The first thing you'll see are some original engines by James Watt and Trevithick: big Victorian steam machines about twenty feet tall, beams as thick as tree trunks. It would be great if they got them going again. Imagine the noises they must have made! They probably sounded like a cross between car crash and a kettle; all whistles, clatter and bangs. I'm looking for… continued”
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