When an astronaut takes over as director of an aviation museum, you can pretty much be assured that space exhibits will get more attention. That’s exactly what has happened at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.
“The expanded space exhibit is something the staff really wanted to do for a long time,” says Seth! Leary, exhibits research and development manager. “Then when Bonnie Dunbar, a former astronaut, came on board we got inspired to beef up the space portion of the museum. We started working on it conceptually last summer, but didn’t get down to putting plans on paper until October of last year.”
According to Leary, the exhibit took nine months to go from paper to floor.
“Normally this kind of exhibit would take two to three years to do, but we wanted to get it done by 2007, which is the 50th anniversary of Sputnik,” he says. “We think it’s a great story to tell and we jumped right on it.”
Among the exhibits are model rockets, space-faring vehicles that never made it past the model stage, and exhibits that display the culture of America at the time of the space race. For example, a television set shows an episode of “I Dream of Jeannie,” a sitcom in which the leading man was a NASA astronaut.
Other items in the exhibit include moon rocks, Carl Sagan’s turtleneck sweater, and props from the movie “October Sky,” which tells the story of Homer Hickam, perhaps best known for his creation of the modern-day model rocket. He also is an accomplished author and spent many years at NASA, employed as an aerospace engineer.
“We also have some interactive exhibits, such as the lunar lander and a space shuttle, where you pilot the two craft,” Leary continues. “In one you land the lunar capsule on the moon, the other you land the space shuttle. The shuttle is similar to landing an airplane, but it has its own idiosyncrasies.
“The other thing that will really wow people is the Destiny Module,” Leary says. “From the outside it looks like a soup can turned on its side, but when you get in there you really get the sense of what it’s like to be in space. It is a very detailed reproduction. Bonnie pointed out that in real life they would have all sorts of things Velcroed to the panels, so it would be a little more cluttered. Ours is neater and tidier than the real space station.”
The space exhibit, officially titled “Exploring the New Frontier,” covers 6,000 square feet.
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