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REVIEW: ASTRONIGHTS AT THE SCIENCE MUSEUM

Mind-blowing Wonders of Science and Space Combine with the Thrill of a Sleepover at this Iconic Museum
Astronights

Astronights brings to life the mind-blowing wonders of science and space for children (and adults) combined with the thrill of a sleepover at the iconic Science Museum, for an extraordinary family adventure.


I head to Kensington's Science Museum with my seven-year-old daughter for a night of memories - and facts about pooing and weeing in space - that neither of us will ever forget.


The nights are held on key dates each month and unsurprisingly, they are popular and a queue of excited campers snakes around the building - it feels like we’re at the gates to Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, as we wait for the doors to open at 6.45pm.


Arrival
Science Museum

The staff move the queues along quickly - our VIP tickets fast-track us through, and mean that we have airbeds and reserved spaces in the sleeping gallery; free Tempur pillows - a source of great excitement for my daughter - a dedicated VIP usher, special breakfast options - plus very welcome hot drink options for sleepy adults - as well as gifts, like astronaut food and Astronights iron-on badges.


We're arranged into our groups and provided corresponding pin badges - we are Purple Inventors. We’re asked to eat dinner before and bring a bag of snacks for later, which are dropped off and we’re led to our sleeping gallery.

Science Museum Astronights

Sleeping areas are set up throughout the sprawling museum. Some doze beneath giant moons and rockets and we sleep in the world’s largest collection of medical galleries, presided over by Marc Quinn's 3.5 metre tall sculpture of Zombie Boy, and surrounded by objects including a rare iron lung, the first stethoscope and first MRI scanner.

Marc Quinn Science Museum

“Just getting comfy in my bedroom” my daughter announces, as she cheerfully kicks off her shoes and skips past dissected bums and skeletons to perform an endoscopy down a simulated upper digestive tract - one of many interactive exhibits in our gallery/bedroom.


We find our designated airbeds awaiting us beside an interactive X-Ray simulation, and my daughter’s excitement verges on hysteria, as she leaps from our bed to the hands-on activities in our room.


Astronights Activities
MAKING THE MODERN WORLD

Once we’ve dropped off our bags and set up our beds, we’re taken downstairs to the Making the Modern World Gallery, for our group safety briefing, beneath spitfires, hot air balloons and helicopters.


The crowd is separated into our different groups and dispatched to various activities. 


Our Purple Inventors remain, for a child-thrillingly disgusting and engaging workshop about how astronauts wee and poo in space.

ASTRONIGHTS

My daughter’s face is like Christmas morning when our brilliant “explainer" reveals that astronauts drink their own sweat and wee - no water is wasted in space. She is thrilled when he demonstrates this, by turning a jug of his own wee into water, before glugging it down. With the help of children from our group, he transforms a bowl of food into poo, using bottles of saliva and enzymes. 


During the experiment, we are taken on a tour of the digestive process on screen. A highlight for my daughter is being asked to loudly chant “rectum!” before he gives us a graphic rectum tour. And her belly laughs are unbridled when he samples some “poo", and then dramatically reaches for water to clean his mouth, but "accidentally” drinks the jug of pure wee.


All of these facts are forever etched in her brain, from the fizzy drinks ban in space to prevent “bomits” - delightul, wet space burps - to zero gravity poos.

Wonderlab theatre

After a pit stop at the cafe for the snacks we dropped off earlier, we’re led to our next activity inside Wonderlab’s futuristic, red spacecaft, containing a 120 seat theatre.

astronights uv workshop

Here, another brilliant and pleasingly eccentric presenter gives an entertaining show about UV, complete with explosive, neon experiments.


We’re dispatched for the children to make their own UV torches to keep, along with pens to write secret messages - my daughter cannot get over the magic of personally creating something capable of such secret wonders, and immediately scrawls UV tattoos all over her body.

science museum operating theatre

Our final activity takes place before a glass-panelled operating theatre, just outside our sleeping gallery.


Big Bang Bingo sees the children crossing off pictures of various Science Museum exhibits which pop up on screen, alongside fun facts, to win prizes.

Bedtime
astronights vip

Then we prepare for bed. Handily, each of the toilet cubicles has its own sink, so you can wash your gnashers and face in privacy and then get into your night gear.


Walking through a museum in pyjamas feels a lot like that dream, where you’re naked from the waist down in Tesco


I’ve never seen my daughter so excited to get into bed. And I overlook the fact that she’s swapped my adult pillow for her tiny, child’s pillow, when she cuddles up to me and excitedly whispers: “This is so cool. I love this... I love you.” 

astronights medical gallery

The crunching sound of assorted bodies getting comfy on air beds sounds like rain crashing against windows and is strangely therapeutic, white noise - my daughter falls asleep as soon as the lights go out at 11.40pm. The galleries are supervised overnight by male and female, Enhanced DBS-checked staff and my daughter is chuffed to note that her wee-drinking hero is sleeping opposite us.


I don’t anticipate any sleep, so am surprised that I manage five hours, before the lights go back on at 6.15am and the the staff merrily announce: “Morning Campers, breakfast will be at 7.30am, before our next activities!”


It takes immense patience, prodding and the occasional hurling of soft toys to rouse my daughter in the morning for school, so it is a scientific miracle when she cheerily leaps out of bed to get ready.


Morning Wonderlab Experience
wonderlab

We head to the cafe, where staff serve us croissants, fruit and cereal bars and my daughter becomes starstruck by the rectum tour guide, who is now serving us hot drinks and fruit juices.


Then we’re off to the Wonderlab, a mind-blowing playground of scientific wonders. The children excitedly leap between the 50 brilliantly interactive exhibits like caffeinated fleas, across seven curriculum-themed zones, exploring Maths, Electricity, Forces, Space, Light, Matter and Sound.

wonderlab slides

There are slides to test friction; pulley chairs, kids can float up on; the famous Infinity Boxes - used on the Wonderlab posters - where my daughter delights in creating an army of herselves, cackling in each other’s faces.


She plays God, controlling her own lightning storm; riding with the Earth and Moon around the Sun; watching water freeze; making spiky creatures from magnetic liquid, and creating misty waterfalls and giant smoke rings.


You can see the wonder on her face, as each exhibit inspires her to see the world in new and exciting ways.

wonderlab

The Wonderlab experience closes with a loud and eye-popping live demo of a giant Tesla coil discharging beautiful bolts of lightning at one million volts, with explosive, crackling and buzzing noises waking any adults still bleary-eyed from the sleepover.


IMAX 3D Show
wonderlab imax

We mount so many stairs, that I am quite sure we will finally emerge on the moon. Instead, we arrive at the Science Museum’s extraordinary IMAX theatre for a 60-minute, 3D screening of A Beautiful Planet, on one of the UK’s biggest screens.


We don our 3D glasses and my daughter’s jaw drops, as we are fully immersed in a gravity-defying trip to space, with the International Space Station crew.


Narrated by Jennifer Lawrence and made in partnership with NASA, it uses breathtaking footage of space and the Earth’s wonders.

a beautiful planet

We see the fascinating day-to-day life of eight months in space - from leaving floating cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve, to gravity-defying workouts and death-defying space station repairs, floating above Planet Earth. 


It’s an impressive and engrossing spectacle, which allows you to taste the experience of zero-gravity life beyond our planet, with a Space Station-view of phenomena like thunderstorms and the extraordinary sight of our planet at night, lit by ribbons of electrical light. 


Crucially - for adults and children - we get an entirely new, and worrying view of the damage we are doing to the planet, from rising tides swallowing the land, to places where water is running out, shifting ice shelves and disappearing rainforests. 

science museum beautiful planet

We’re left with a feeling of agency to make a change and a desire to do it, while also feeling like grains of sand among the vastness of space.


It ends with a fascinating hint of life elsewhere, on the recently discovered planet, Kepler-186f, 500 light-years away from Earth in another solar system.


Suffice to say that any parts of my daughter’s mind yet to be blown, have now exploded. 


There’s a huge difference between reading about the world and experiencing it. And that’s what the Science Museum and its Astronights do so powerfully - big and little guests can see, smell, hear and touch these wonders, leaving the museum to head back into a world that feels bigger, more extraordinary and worth caring for.


Science Museum, Exhibition Rd, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD. Astronights dates vary. VIP tickets £115pp. Standard tickers £75pp. Designed for children aged 7-11. Arrival at 6.45pm and the experience concludes at 10am the following morning.


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