LONDON (Reuters) - The Natural History Museum's famous cast of a Diplodocus skeleton – affectionately known as Dippy – is to be sent on a tour of Britain.

Millions of people have seen Dippy the dinosaur in its London home since it was first unveiled to the public in 1905. Since 1979 the huge skeleton has been the star attraction of the entrance hall, welcoming visitors to the museum in London's South Kensington.

However, from summer 2017 it will be replaced by the skeleton of a blue whale, which will be dramatically suspended so as to appear that it is diving.

The Museum announced this week that Dippy will go on tour throughout the United Kingdom from early 2018.

"For many of us, that first glimpse of Dippy was a formative moment in our childhood, evoking awe and a genuine wonder at the natural world," said museum director Sir Michael Dixon.

“A UK tour of this iconic dinosaur will surely prompt curiosity and a desire to explore, helping to inspire the scientists of tomorrow,” he added in a statement.

Never before has a specimen as big as Dippy been sent beyond the museum, and it will need to be dismantled and rebuilt at each venue it visits. Because it is a cast, the venues will have to be indoor.

Each venue will be expected to host Dippy for a minimum of 4-6 months.

They will also need to be large enough to accommodate the 21 meter (23 yard) long dinosaur, as well as being expected to organizes a program of educational activities and events.

(Reporting by Reid Kelly; editing by Stephen Addison)