It’s been over five years since I wrote about the International Spaceflight Museum (ISM) in Second Life. At that time, this two-region facility, offering something of a history of space exploration, had just come through something of a financial crisis (see here and here). Prior to that, my last visit was far back in 2012 – so I thought I’d hop back over for an update.
Comprising Spaceport Alpha and Spaceport Beta, and entirely funded by donations and sponsorship as a 501(c)3 non-profit, ISM is a large-scale undertaking, providing a good introduction to the history of space flight, charting many of the key events and the systems they used. It provides insight into international space operations covering – America, the Soviet Union/Russia, Europe, Japan, China, India – together with something of a look at commercial activities.
A visit starts at the main landing point / information hub. This features a citation to a letter from Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, the Soviet Russian rocket scientist regarded as the “grandfather” of modern rocketry. Given as Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever, the quote is from a phrase Tsiolkovsky wrote in 1911, which transliterates as Planyeta yest’ kolybyel razuma, no nyelzya vietchno zhit’ v kolybyeli – “a planet is the cradle of mind, but one cannot live in a cradle forever”. However, both this literal translation and the more popular quote point to the same ideal: that to grow as a species, humanity must as some point reach beyond the planet of our birth.
A path leads away from the landing hub towards ISM’s most impressive feature: the Rocket Ring. This provides models of some of the major launch systems used by countries around the world. This includes vehicles such as the V2 rocket – which both Russia and America utilised in their early post-war experiments; launch systems developed from ballistic missile systems – such as America’s Titan and Atlas; through to more familiar launchers such as the Soviet / Russian Soyuz and Proton families, and a look at some of the more recent vehicles to enter the market: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.
The ring is far from complete – systems such as Blue Origin’s New Shephard and New Glenn are lacking, NASA’s Space Launch System is missing (although the cancelled Ares launchers from the US Constellation programme are present, dominating the ring alongside Russia’s massive N1 lunar booster). However, space is limited, and what is presented is still a rich array of launch vehicles which, for those interested in the less well advertised space programmes – such as Japan’s, India’s or China’s, provides some excellent models of their current fleets.
Beneath the Rocket ring are further exhibits, including models of the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) and Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), the Gemini capsule, and a look at the lives of Tsiolkovsky and Robert Hutchings Goddard, regarded as the “father” of modern rockery. NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) in both its original form, with rounded solar arrays and a more recent design, featuring twin rectangular solar arrays. Orion will use a Service Module based on the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), which used to haul up to 5 tonnes of supplies and equipment to the space station, and include the ATV’s unique arrangement of four solar arrays.
Further out from these are further displays, including the Apollo Saturn 1B rocket, information centres and more. These also include interactive elements, such as a Gemini V / Atlas II rocket, which offers a ride up to one of the sky exhibits – that of the International Space Station (which can also be reached from the ground-level sit-on teleport kiosks). Also in the sky and reached from the ISS display, are models of the solar system.
Spaceport Bravo, reached via a runway-like bridge over which the first sub-orbital flight of SpaceShipOne is recorded, sits a reproduction of NASA’s Vehicle (or Vertical, as it was originally known) Assembly Building (the VAB). This is where the Apollo rockets and space shuttle systems were “stacked” and readied for launch, and where the SLS rocket will be assembled ready for flight. One of the bays in the VAB feature the space shuttle Atlantis, which has just been mated with its External Tank / Solid Rocket Booster units; the other features a Saturn V leaving the bay atop its crawler-transporter. Alongside of this is an Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF), the interior of which is somewhat sparse, but does offer models of NASA’s lunar rover vehicle and the Lunniy Korabl (LK) lander vehicle which formed part of the Soviet Union’s manned lunar programme aspirations.
Visually, ISM offers a lot to see, not all of which is expressed here – and at one time hosted a range of events (it’s unclear whether this is still the case). However, there are some disappointments. An attempt has been made to link exhibits to a wiki, but the majority of pages have yet to be populated, for example. Several areas appear a little sparse – such as the OPF building, as noted; all of which gives a feeling the ISM is caught in time – as if in the midst of a still-to-be completed update, including elements which might be relatively easily seen to. Take the photo map of the Florida space coast, for example. This shows the facilities at both Kennedy Space Centre and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but has yet to be updated to reflect SpaceX’s use of Kennedy’s Pad-39A and Canaveral’s SLc-40 and SLC-13.
Even so, for those who want to dip their toes a little more deeply into the world of space flight, ISM retains a lot to offer, while across the water NASA’s Explorer Island offers an interesting looking back in history to the US space agency’s involvement in Second Life.
International Spaceflight Museum (Spaceport Alpha, rated; General)