Go back to article: ‘Something simple and striking, if not amusing’ – the Freedom 7 special exhibition at the Science Museum, 1965


From October 1965 to May 1966, the Science Museum in London displayed the American spacecraft Freedom 7, the first capsule in NASA’s Mercury programme to take a human on a suborbital flight. Archival records concerning this temporary display are extensive and contain photographic sources as well as written ones. This case therefore lends itself to a study aimed at evaluating the comparative merits of these two types of records, for understanding the logic at play in the display, and for retrieving at least part of the visitors’ experience. Visual sources emerge from this comparison as invaluable records for accessing the materiality of this temporary exhibition. They demonstrate that the Freedom 7 special exhibition was a key moment in the establishment of a space science and technology section at the Science Museum, as it enabled the Museum to begin historicising what was then a new field of scientific and technological enquiry. The exhibition follows a logic of display theorised in 1950 by Henry Calvert, a senior curator, in a note recently discovered in the Science Museum’s archives. It is based on the display of a star object that draws visitors’ attention towards less charismatic exhibits.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/140105/006