Watching the broadcast of the Space Shuttle Atlantis lifting off into the blue sky last week brought back memories of a research trip to the Kennedy Space Center last fall. National Air and Space Museum staff members are hard at work on a new exhibition about the history of the space shuttle era and the International Space Station. The trip included behind-the-scenes tours of various facilities at the Center and an up-close look at launch pad 39A with an elevator ride to 195 feet and a peek inside the entry hatch of Atlantis. What a thrill!
The challenge before the exhibition team is how to translate the enormity of the shuttle (positioned for flight, it’s taller than the Statue of Liberty) and the extreme conditions of space into a 5,000 square foot exhibition that is engaging, interactive and educational. We can’t replicate the amazing Kennedy Space Center views or simulate a launch, but our partnership with NASA allows us access to fascinating artifacts and video footage. In the end, our goal is to create an exhibition that capitalizes on the Smithsonian’s unique ability to provide museum visitors with a look at cool stuff, while learning an accurate story, and making personal connections to our nation’s history. Phase I of the exhibition opens in October.
Tim Grove is acting Chief of Education at the National Air and Space Museum’s building on the National Mall.