York is a city that is steeped in history but far from stuck in the past.
It is neither modern metropolis nor archaic antiquity. Instead, it is a perfect juxtaposition of old and new; a place of incredible heritage alongside marvellous modernity.
Located close to York’s historic city walls lies an attraction of global importance, the National Railway Museum. This free to enter attraction celebrates over 300 years of history and 1 million objects that changed the way we live and propelled us into the modern world.
So, it is only fitting then that a place of sophisticated engineering such as this is now playing host to another feat of ingenious inventing that has already taken us beyond our own world and into the vast reaches of space, the Soyuz TMA-19M descent module.
This is the very same module that transported revered British astronaut Tim Peake back to earth after his spell aboard the International Space Station and has now landed in York until March 8th.
Thanks to the Science Museum Group’s partnership with Samsung, not only can you come face-to-face with Tim’s spacecraft but you can step into his shoes and experience everything that he saw in a virtual reality experience, powered by the latest Samsung Gear VR, that is narrated by the astronaut himself; for a nominal cost.
As you step into the darkened room ready to embark on your adventure, the first thing you will notice is the lights in the roof that give the feeling of staring up at the starry night sky. The room itself is not dissimilar to the Hollywood version of space age ships, a few rows of extremely slick and comfortable leather chairs are laid out in a way that gives you the feeling that you are about to become part of an elite crew and experience something that people only dream of.
In a way, this isn’t untrue.
Once the headset is strapped on you are taken out of this world, above the world even, as you float alongside the Soyuz spacecraft being readied for the 400km journey back to Earth.
Almost instantly, you’ll forget that this isn’t real as you look around the fully-immersive 360⁰ views of the earth that will quite literally take your breath away.
Throughout the experience, Tim talks about how much appreciation you have for your home planet after experiencing what he has and, even though this is just VR, you will leave with this very same feeling.
You’ll also appreciate just how complex a mission such as this is. This is an interactive attraction and this means you get to experience what it is like to sit inside the spacecraft as it makes its dangerous, high-speed journey back to Earth. As you look around the craft you’ll notice the lack of gravity, the fire that chars the very ship that you’re in as you speed back through the atmosphere and the ‘soft’ landing that you will endure that Tim’s colleague, Tim Kopra described as being hit by a truck.
The Soyuz space module commands a certain deal of respect even before the experience, but as you disembark your spacecraft and head towards it a second time you’ll truly appreciate just how amazing and complex this feat of engineering is. At certain times of the day you can listen in to a talk all about the little, but important, module’s story and what was accomplished by Tim Peake and his colleagues in the six months that he was up in space.
It is a story so intriguing, so unfathomably fantastical that this unassuming little craft that is placed in the middle of the museum, commands so much interest and attention. Not only from visitors from all corners of the world, but from historic engines that were once just as important to the future of humanity. Trains from across the decades gather around the railway turntable, facing the descent module and its prominent parachute, that is the size of two tennis courts, as though listening intently to the story that is being told.
It’s a subtle yet striking act of symbolism and it works so perfectly.
This is a mission unlike any other and you’re in the driving seat, visit the National Railway Museum now and enjoy an experience that is quite literally out of this world.
The Tim Peake's Spacecraft exhibition is at the National Railway Museum from 17 January to 08 March 2018. The museum is free to enter and there is a £6 charge for the Space Descent VR experience (Ages 13 years and up). For full information, visit nrm.org.uk/soyuz