Friday, 14 August 2015

Space City, Toulouse, France

Sometimes Mr B comes up with a good idea for somewhere interesting to visit. And Space City, or le Cité de l'Espace, was one such choice. Sitting in an unassuming suburb of Toulouse it's exactly what you wouldn't expect to find in such an old and historic city.

The first thing that catches your eye is the 53 metre high mock-up of an Ariane 5 rocket that's parked outside. In a low-build skyline you'd be really hard pressed to miss it.

The park sets out to tell the story of our conquest of Space. Being in Europe there's quite a lot of focus on our very own ESA, the European Space Agency, and on what feels a little bit like its big brother, the North American Space Agency, or NASA, if you prefer.

There's a great permanent exhibition hall given over to explaining every aspect of space and space travel with more interactive exhibits than would keep an 9 year old (and his parents) entertained all day.

I was impressed by the amount of stuff we have orbiting our planet at the moment. The photo above shows all of the active satellites in orbit around the earth right now, and the photo below shows all of the space junk that's been left in orbit. I'd say we've got a bit of an extra-terrestrial litter problem. It's going to be a real challenge hoovering all that stuff up.

Outside there's a mock-up of an ERS 2 satellite. Comparing the size of the gizmo on the ground with the number of dots in orbit I'd say there's a fair tonnage of kit out there spinning around us.

They explain how these satellites help us in any number of ways. Navigation systems such as the US Navy's GPS, for which I am especially grateful - thank you Uncle Sam, help many of us find our way around. The Europeans with their constellation of 30 Galileo satellites are in the business of building their own system, as are the Russians with their GLONASS system.

Satellite imaging is useful for any number of reasons ranging from spying or protecting our security interests to monitoring and understanding soil erosion to aerial archeology to find traces of ancient structures not visible at ground level.

There had some pretty spectacular satellite images on display.

Here's the Al Khalifa Tower in Dubai, the tallest man-made structure on Earth, ...

... and here's the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing ...

... or how about the pyramids at Giza ...

... but this one was my personal favourite: 

It was taken on 20th January, 2009 and shows the scene on the ground for the inauguration of President Obama, stretching from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. The swarms of dark shadows are people.

Emi had a go at piloting a racing yacht around the north coast of Guadeloupe, using the satellite to chose the fastest ocean currents to carry him past the race leader and home to victory.

And he was chuffed to bits when he won! You can see his little yellow boat has just overtaken the red race leader.

He had a go at driving a tractor to the parts of the fields that most needed fertiliser. Again satellite imaging was key to getting the job done and helping to maximise agricultural output for our ever-hungry world.

We took turns on the Lunar Lander. It was a tricky sort of jalopy to manoeuvre: definitely not the sort of thing that you'd take to nip quickly down to the shops in. 

They had a real, live piece of moon rock, which left us a bit star-struck. Just imagine: we were looking at a little piece of the moon <eek>. 

We gave the zero gravity simulator a miss. It looked fun, but not after we'd just had a nice, tasty French lunch ... .

There was a doppelgänger of the Curiosity Lander that is currently on active service exploring Mars ... . Emi was able to turn its camera around for an optimal view of the ... exhibition hall ...

 ... and there was a double of the Philae lander, Europe's comet chaser, which was launched on the Rosetta Mission way back in 2004 to explore a distant comet, with the catching name Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on which it finally landed last year. Its mission is to analyse the composition of the comet and record images from the surface of the comet as it travels into the inner solar system on its orbit round the sun. Comets are believed to have been the early building blocks which seeded the development of the earth and its neighbours. By studying the composition of its host comet Philae will help science understand the process by which our solar system was born. 

Outside there's a mock up of a Soyuz Space vehicle. All manned space flights to and from the International Space Station are now carried out using Soyuz.

And all the component parts of an Ariane 1 rocket were spread across the lawn like an oversized children's building set.

But the star of the show was the Mir Space Station, a live-sized replica of the real thing, that you're free to go inside, walk around, walk under and explore.

I have total admiration and respect for the astronauts who operate it and who spend extended periods of time living on it.  I know that space tourism with the likes of Virgin Galactic is the next big thing, and at the risk of sounding very parochial and terrestrial, I've got to say that I don't think any of that sort of thing's for me. It's ironic with the vast expanse of space out there to explore, but I'd feel desperately claustrophobic living on Mir. No, even if I got to partner up with the gorgeous Mr Clooney for a space walk I think I'd say no, no thanks, George.

We saw a stunning movie about the Hubble Space Telescope in the huge imax cinema (6 stories tall, no less) and that's about as far into space as I personally want to go. The amazing thing about Hubble and all the space missions that the park chronicles is how the exploration of space has led us to a deeper admiration for our own glorious little planet. The further we travel, whether to Mars or some huge meteorite or the moons around Pluto, the more we come to appreciate just how special our own nurturing Earth is, with its protective atmosphere that keeps us safe from cosmic rays and solar winds, and its abundance of water and oxygen and all the other elements that are necessary to sustain life. 

So, all things told space exploration has led us on a similar journey of understanding to that taken by Dorothy, that early space traveller from the Wizard of Oz who was carried away by a tornado and only made it back home to Kansas again when the good witch, Glinda, advised her to tap her heels together three times repeating the mantra: There's no place like home!.

If you'd like to visit the park you can check out the website here: Space City, Toulouse, France.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

And if you'd like to check out some of Mr B's other stellar days out you might enjoy: 

Tankfest, a beauty parade ... for tanks!

Micropolis, the Kingdom of the Insects ...

1 comment:

  1. That was a good choice, It looks like a very interesting place to visit and learn new stuff. Of the images from the satellite I liked the Pyramids the best.