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Ariane rocket and Soyuz capsule.

cité de l’espace -
space city

 

sketch map indicating the Cité de l'espace

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la cité de l’espace - space city
Cité de l'espace logooutside
     for children
indoors
how to manage your visit
other facilities
background history

la cité de l’espace - space city

Ariane 5 rocket, a satellite, a Sputnik caspule and various Ariane stages.

A full-size Mir space station, an Ariane 5 rocket, heart-stopping 3-D films, absorbing (and educational) interactive displays on everything to do with space and its exploration by humans, are presented in a neat park with fascinating outdoor exhibits and several exhibition and cinema buildings.

The displays and shows at Space City can be divided into outside and indoors.

outside

Mir space station at the Cité de l'Espace, Toulouse.  Mir space station, with visitors.
click images for larger versions
  • mir space station
    The Cité de l’Espace has a real space station of the first design where humans lived for extended periods - the Russian Mir Space Station. This particular Mir is one that had been used for thermical tests. A past newspaper report relates that it was sold to help reduce the enormous Russian debt. Visitors can walk through the utilitarian and small interior living and working spaces, to have a flavour of earlier space living.

    The Mir Space Station started in 1986 with a 20-ton core module, which had six docking ports for a visiting transport craft. Further modules added over the next decade until Mir became a space colony. It was abandoned in 1999 because a lack of funding. The last crew comprised two cosmonauts and a French astronaut. The Russians destroyed Mir in 2001.

  • The Ariane 5 rocketariane 5
    This Ariane 5 rocket is a full-size model, set in landscaping similar to the actual Ariane launch area in Kourou, Guyana, with coconut trees and birdsong, as well as a full rocket transport system. In the base of the space craft is the Kids’ Space Base.

    kids’ space base
    Here is a hands-on exhibition aimed at 6 to 12 year-olds, organised with three themes - Astronomer, Engineer and Astronaut. There are opportunities to learn about time, gravity, the phases of the moon, as well as many of the operations that are part being a spaceman (or woman), such as building a rocket, or launching another, air-powered rocket, after priming it up. Upstairs, there are more fascinating exhibits for young space goers, including being inside an EVA spacesuit and testing a space sleeping bag. It’s fascinating for adults too, if the kids will let you have a go.
    Inside the Kid's Space Base
    Inside the Kid's Space Base
    Comparing the effect of gravity
    Comparing the effect of gravity

  • satellites, dishes and rocket stages
    Arrayed near the entrance to the reception and exhibition building, and between that and the Astralia building, are several satellites and a set of stages for an Ariane rocket parading next to the path. Rather hidden round the side is a collection of different types of parabolic dishes for sending and receiving data signals.

Cité de l'espace logo

Other major outdoor displays include

Outdoor solar system model, Cité de l'Espace.
click image for larger version

  • Our solar system: A large model shows the relative sizes and distances of the planetary members of our solar system. However, the size and distance scales are not comparable, so the planets are much closer than would be correct for the relative sizes shown in the model. All the same, the model does give a good sense of how our closest neighbours are similar in size to the Earth, while further away are two much, much larger planets, with the now demoted Pluto in the distance.

  • Nearby is the “alley of the infinite”. Signs, each a metre apart, represent a geometric sequence and demonstrate the scale of the universe. Each sign marks a power of ten further away: 1 kilometre [100], 10 kilometres[101], 100 km [10²], 1000 km [10³] and so on, right to the edge of the known universe - roughly 303 x 1021 km [302,736,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilometres] away. The signs include images from space showing Space City from these distances. Soon, the images show the whole Earth and, in due course, the solar system and beyond.

outdoors for children

There are plenty of other interesting bits for different ages -

The mini astronauts' play area, suitable for 3 to 12 year olds
The mini astronauts' play area, suitable for 3 to 12 year olds

For younger visitors, there is a mini astronauts play area. For a different adventure, there is the galaxy maze.

The galaxy labarinth, suitable for 4 to 7 year olds; with the Astralia building beyond.
The galaxy labarinth, suitable for 4 to 7 year olds; with the Astralia building beyond.

Older visitors may be interested in the lane of solar clocks - sundials, and in the large-scale demonstration of parallax.

A human gnomon is part of this sundial, with rocket stages, the galaxy maze and the Astralia building beyond.
A human gnomon is part of this sundial, with rocket stages,
the galaxy maze and the Astralia building beyond.

indoors

  • Terr@dome
    The Terr@dome. Image:Cité de l'espaceStarting with a simulated flight into space and back billions of years, you are guided into a vast darkened circular hall with a raised walkway that encircles a three-dimensional globe - the Earth.

    The globe uses state-of-the-art retro-projection technology. A globe apparently floating shows billions of years of geological evolution.The globe’s surface is illuminated by extraordinary projected images that change to visualise the evolution of the Earth from its birth, though five billion years to the present.

    The visual displays on the walls, screens below the walkway, together with the commentary, take you through a history of the early universe, the early solar system and, in due course, the history of our world. You will be immersed in sounds, including from your headphones, and a multitude of visual effects - films, slide-shows, lighting and, always in the centre, the large glowing globe evolving and changing over the eons of its history.

Cité de l'espace logo

     

    the Astralia building, home to the i-Max cinemas and the planetarium.

  • astralia
    Within this building is an IMAX cinema with astounding films being shown at regular intervals during the day. Study your timetable sheet carefully, it is quite easy to confuse which is the correct door to enter at what time, mostly because the signing is not explicit.

    The IMAX cinema screen size has a enormous, 350 m² surface area - 21m width at the base and 16m width at the top, and as high as a six-storey building, the cinema seating 300 visitors. The room is oriented and tilted to 22°, so you can look up without cricking your neck. abelard.org watched a very impressive film, the first 3-D film made in space, on the building of the International Space Station. Polarised 3-D glasses are provided to enable three dimensional viewing.
    [There are two 70mm projectors providing high resolution images, about 10 times more detail than a normal 35mm film projection. The sound projection is a Dolby-Surround system adapted to the size and shape of the IMAX hall.]

    Because it takes a good while to move audiences of three hundred in and out of the IMAX cinema, there is a waiting area where for the 15 minutes before the IMAX film’s start time, another rather sweet film is shown (though with French speech only). This screen is 14m wide and 2.6m high.

    You are well advised to try and reach the IMAX cinema area well before the film starts, to ensure that you can pick up your viewing glasses and find a seat without fuss. The waiting room film makes any wait less boring.
The planetarium at the Cité de l'espace.
The planetarium in l’Astralia building
The living wall in l'astralia building
The living wall in l’Astralia building,
around the entrance to the Imax cinemas

There is also a planetarium, with a 600m² hemispherical, overhead screen, that seats 278 people. Using high definition videographic projection [Digistar 3], the show flies the visitor from the outskirts of the universe and in towards our galaxy. Later parts describe some constellations that can be seen that evening or night. The room is inclined 10° to enable more comfortable viewing.

  • exhibition pavilion & stellarium
    Floor index for exhibition building The exhibition building, which includes the ticket desk and gift shop, holds the Stellarium as well as four floors with over 2,500 m² of displays, on all aspects of space exploration and exploitation.

    This building is stuffed with exhibits that are interesting and educative to those with just an everyday knowledge of space. With the many interactive and static exhibits, visitors will find that Exhibition will burn up their visit time, so keep an eye on your timings for fixed shows like the Planetarium, or the IMAX cinema.

    On every floor, there are games, interactive experiments and simulations to help visitors understand space and its exploration by focusing on topics such as:
    • Long-distance communication, from wireless/radio to using satellites. You can even do some long-distance communicating to a friend yourself, bouncing signals off a small satellite dish in the hall.
    • The Earth - gravity, its orbit, seasons, weather. You can talk to a meterologist - a weather forecaster, about the science of weather forecasting, his weather instruments and his job of weather prediction. (Do not rely on English being spoken.)
    • Going from Earth to space - the history from the first Sputnik to landing on the moon and beyond, the spacecraft and the men who flew them.
    • Living in space - the everyday life on a space shuttle, manoeuvering a space scooter, even find out about space food.
    • Exploring space, both far far to the outer reaches, and closer by with manned exploration. A timeline shows the main achievements made by the major space powers. Note that France counts themselves in this group.

      Some of the exhibits are not as well maintained as should be expected.

    The Stellarium, shows a 17-minute film designed for 4 to 7 year olds, giving the story of the hunter in the sky, with the hunter Orion and his dog Sirius lost in a forest of stars.

    Exhibits and shows are all worth seeing, especially for those of us who have just a cereal packet, comic and TV level of space education.

Cité de l'espace logo

how to manage your visit

Entrance charges:

Day entrance charges [2008, price depending on season] are 19.5€ to 21€ for adults, and 13€ to 14€ for children between 5 and 15 years. There are family and individual season tickets. There also discounts for disabled persons, unemployed, benefit recipients, students and families of 2 adults and 2 children. Full details are available at the Cité de l’Espace web site [in English; French and Spanish language site versions also available].

Park plan and timetable - plan, plan, plan!

Plan of the Cité de l'espace park. Click  for larger version.It is best to take a little time when you first arrive to study the park plan and events timetable that you are given with your tickets. Several ‘shows’ or events only occur at certain times - these are listed to the left of your park map as “access at set times”, while others are available at any time - listed at the map top as “permanent access”.

Initial planning will ensure that you do not miss a show or quickly become exausted. Although there is no specified route through the Cité de l’Espace park, a show at a specified time could be at the other side of the park to where you are currently. Thus, some organisation will make sure that you do not miss a showing, or spend your day cross-crossing the park, instead of doing things more systematically.

The Cité de l’Espace web site gives some information about shows available (the French version has a greater range of information), so you can do some choosing and planning before visiting. The attendants at the information kiosk will help as well.

  • On entering the park, first study the sheet with time schedule, park map and list of shows ( les spectacles, in French). Take it all in together so you can work out which shows to go to, and when and in which order. To fit in seeing lots, you will probably want to visit over two days.
  • Don’t be tempted into the souvenir shops first, or you will miss timed displays - keep souvenir-hunting for last, or for self-timed visits (!) between moving around and the shows.
  • Some shows are morning only, some afternoon only, some run continuously, most are at specific times during the day.
  • For a small returnable deposit, headphones (casques) are available that receive translations of the French commentaries in most of the shows. This is worth doing as not only are the show commentaries in French, but many of the displays in the Exhibitions Building have audio commentary accessible only by the headphones.

Make sure you arrive at the Cité de l’espace as early as possible,
to have plenty of time to visit the entire site,
to programme your IMAX and Planetarium sessions,
and even be able to enjoy a guided tour during the day.
Expect to devote at least one entire day to your visit to the Cité de l’espace.

Radio-pickup information

Visitors are provided with headphones and a receiver when they pay a small deposit with their their entrance fee at the reception area. There are information broadcast points around Cité de l'Espace that send information about the nearby exhibit to the headphones. Tell the ticket-seller your preferred language and you will be given the appropriate receiver.

Tickets

You will use your ticket to access the different films and indoor exhibition areas, just as you might use a metro ticket. So, do not lose the ticket, and it’s best not bury it right at the bottom of a bag or in an inside pocket.

The Astronaut Café

other facilities

  • Two restaurants and a snack bar, as well as several picnic areas.

    The snack bar in the Astralia building

  • A souvenir shop with general Cité de l’espace items, as well as items themed to different displays in the park. There are also regional products including Toulouse violets and pastel. The prices of the souvenirs are within reason.
  • attractive planted areas, trees, benches, attractively arranged.
  • signs are detailed, but understandable.

Near to Montaudran is a quantity of variously-priced hotels, some offering special deals at times.

Both the Cité de l’espace and most of the hotels have English-speaking staff, and often there are also speakers of other European languages.

Information on current prices, opening times and shows can be found at the Cité de l’Espace web site, together with hotel information and descriptions of the various technologies used. [Note that this web site has animation, streaming video content and .pdf documents. You will need to have Flash (for the animations), QuickTime or RealPlayer (streaming video player) and Acrobat installed to fully access the Cité de l’Espace web site; available in French, English and Spanish.]

Michelin of Toulouse, with Cité de l'espace marked (blue arrow)

Plan showing access to the Cité de l'espace.The Cité de l’Espace park is located off the busy A61 Rocade (ring road) between Junctions/Sorties 17 and 18, in the southbound direction. [Indicated on small-scale map by blue arrow. We advise you to use Sortie 17]

The Cité de l’Espace is not easy to access, and the road signs (like so many French road signs) are not very obvious, or explicit. Several car parks for the theme park lead off the second roundabout, as does a local road.

 

background history

Toulouse can be regarded as the European capital of aviation and aerospace. Over 35,000 of the city’s 400,000 population are employed in civil aviation or space industries, with Airbus / EADS being the largest employer in the region.

The Cité de l’Espace was opened in 1997 as a space museum, and is now a major educational while entertaining theme park in southern France. In October 2007, a large exhibition will opened to celebrate both the 10th anniversary of the park and the 50th anniversary of the launching of the first man-made object into space - the Sputnik by the USSR (United Soviet Socialist Republic).

Roughly half its financing is from the City of Toulouse funds, as well as contributions from the Midi-Pyrenees regional council, and various natinal ministries and agencies. The other half of the funding is provided by space-associated organisations, including the European Space Agency, the National Space Study Center, Aerospatiale (the French component of the Airbus consortium), Matra Marconi Space, as well as national gas and electricity utilities (EDF-GDF), and Meteo France (French weather agency).

For operating, the annual budget is about $5.5 million a year.

 

end notes

  1. thermical
    To do with the interactions between very high electrical charges and objects, as when a lightning bolt strikes a metal spaceship. At the point hit by lightning, there is great pressure and heat generated, with the metal melting in localised spots. [Only information source found so far]

  2. EVA
    Extra Vehicular Activity

  3. The Digistar3 projection technology used in the planetarium is made by Evans & Sutherland Computer Corporation (E&S), based in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. The Cité de l’espace is their thirty-fifth customer for Digistar3.

  4. Pastel
    Pastel is a dye plant (Isatis tinctoria), whose colour is a pale, pastel (!), blue. It was the dyestuff used for the French troops during World War One, and is also much used in paints. Thus many French country houses have their shutters and fences painted Pastel Blue.

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