Located next to the River Soar on the north side of Leicester, the National Space Centre is a museum that focuses on the fields of astronomy and space science. It is also home to a space research program, which is conducted in association with the local University of Leicester. The building itself is a unique tower that contains minimal steel supports, instead using a semi-transparent cladding of ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) plastic ‘pillows’, which has made the building one of the most instantly recognisable in the area. The building itself was designed by prominent English architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, and stands at 138ft tall. It was officially opened to the public on 30th June, 2001.
Claiming to be the only building that houses and displays upright space rockets indoors, the Centre has a number of attractions and exhibits on display. These include one of just three known Soyuz spacecraft situated in the Western World; a series of spacecraft designed for the Soviet space programme in Russia. In addition, the centre has six main exhibit galleries to choose from, along with a range of several visitor activities to take part in that cover astronomy, space flight, and cosmology. Along with the exhibits, visitors can enjoy a film in the Digistar 3 cinema and planetarium, before settling down for a meal in the restaurant, which is situated below the two nozzles of the PGM-17 Thor and Blue Star rockets.
One of the most exciting facilities available at the Centre is digital visualisation. They have their own digital visualisation team, known as NSC Creative, who put together all the ‘full dome’ planetarium shows hosted at the Centre. One of the most popular productions here is the official International Year of Astronomy ‘We are Astronomers’, a film that was funded by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council. Another main facility here is Near Earth Objects; the UK Government’s Near Earth object (NEO) information is based at the Centre, where the failed spacecraft, Beagle 2 Mars, was commanded from their Landing Operations Control Centre.
Along with the main exhibits, attractions and facilities, the centre also hosts a number of events throughout the year for anybody interested in astronomy and space travel. Some of the most notable events held at the Centre include a visit from Buzz Aldrin in 2005, sci-fi weekends, a visit and talk from NASA astronaut Brian Duffy who described his trip to space, and a UK tour by the NASA STS-121 crew, who spoke to industry leaders, MP’s, and school children regarding the UK industry, inspiring many young people to pursue a future career in science and technology. Future events include space exploration and engineering, talks, demonstrations, and live stargazing – many of which are hosted by special guests.
If you are considering visiting the National Space Centre, their opening hours are 10:00-16:00 Monday to Friday, and 10:00-17:00 on weekends. For frequent visitors, an annual pass can be purchased on their website. One adult ticket costs £14.