New displays tell the Leicester story of space exploration

Posted by pt91 at Feb 24, 2012 04:55 PM |
The University of Leicester has been at the forefront of space research ever since the very first person travelled into outer space in the 1960s.

The impact that the university has made on world-leading research into space science in this time is the subject of an exhibition at the National Space Centre (NSC).

A set of graphic panels on show within the centre tell the story of Leicester's contributions to cutting edge space missions, beginning with the launch of a Skylark rocket in 1961 – the same year Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space.

The rocket lifted a Leicester-built instrument into space which was used to take X-ray pictures of the Sun, and marked the start of Leicester's X-ray astronomy programme.

The exhibition explains how satellites containing X-ray detectors and instruments developed in Leicester were launched from the 1960s onwards– including the first British satellite, Ariel 1, in 1961 and NASA's Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO)-4 in 1967.

The university's most recent space milestones are also proudly featured – from Leicester scientists' role with Envisat, the world’s most sophisticated Earth observation satellite, launched in 2002, to a Leicester-built X-ray telescope on board the NASA Swift Observatory, aimed at studying gamma ray bursts, which was launched in 2004.

The exhibition also boasts a screen displaying details about 15 space missions the university is involved in, complete with regular updates from scientists in our Space Research Centre and College of Science and Engineering.

The university led a bid that saw the Space Centre become the Millennium Commission’s Landmark Project for the East Midlands, and the centre was opened June 2001. Plaque commemorating the contribution of key figures from the University of Leicester was installed at the Centre in 2009.

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L-R: Chas Bishop, Chief Executive of the NSC; Nigel Siesage, Director of Administration for the College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology; Emeritus Professor Alan Ponter, former Head of Engineering; and Emertius Professor Alan Wells of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Kevin Yates, Space Communications Manager at the NSC (and also the project manager for the Near Earth Objects Information Centre, based at the Space Centre), explained:

We wanted to exhibit the University of Leicester's work because of the long history of space research here in Leicester. The university has been involved for all of the first five decades of space research. The National Space Centre is here because of the university but sometimes people visiting the centre are not always aware of the long history of space research in Leicester. We thought the panels would help give people the connection between the centre and the university, and hopefully encourage a new generation of people to become science students."


Elsewhere in the centre, our scientists are continuing to lend a hand to proceedings. The NSC's breathtaking planetarium show We Are Astronomers features contributions and expert advice from Dr Kim Page, Dr Jennifer Carter and Dr Nigel Bannister from our Department of Physics and Astronomy.