There was a time when nothing captivated the American public more than space. The Space Race. Beating the Russians to the moon.
The successes, failures and possibilities of America’s space program were discussed in cafes, barrooms and living rooms like today’s Americans talk about sports, Pop Culture and politics.
On July 20, 1969, that collective obsession reached its apex when American astronauts landed on the moon. The interest went far beyond the U.S. border; an estimated 500 million people watched on TVs around the world.
Fifty-year commemorations of this stupefying achievement have been taking place around the country this summer. If the anniversary has you inspired to learn more, you’re in luck.
The Museum of Flight in Seattle presents an extraordinary opportunity to view actual NASA Apollo 11-flown artifacts, including the historic command module, Columbia—the only portion of the historic spacecraft to survive the mission. This exhibition tour, which began in 2017 and wraps up September 2, marks the first time Columbia has left Washington, D.C. since making a 26,000-mile victory lap of the United States in 1970 and 1971, which saw it travel to all 50 states.
Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, organized in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, includes more than 20 one-of-a-kind artifacts from the Smithsonian along with dozens of rare objects from the Museum of Flight’s collection including a Soviet Sputnik satellite, early cosmonaut spacesuit and the world’s only display of the remains of the rocket engines that boosted Apollo missions to the Moon.
Great attention has rightly been given the three Apollo 11 astronauts who went to space—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins—but what of the team of people on the ground who got them there and back safely? That story is being told anew at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the Apollo Mission Control Center has been restored to appear as it did during those harrowing days a half-century ago.
“This (restoration) will not only help share our history with visitors from around the world, but also remind our current employees who are planning missions to send humans back to the Moon and then further to Mars, that anything is possible and we are standing on the shoulders of giants,” Restoration Project Manager Jim Thornton said of the $5 million project upon its completion.
Extreme care was taken to ensure the authenticity of the control room and the artifacts inside. The pieces in the restored control room, visitor’s gallery and adjacent simulation support room are either original artifacts which have been cleaned and restored, such as the control consoles and displays, or items recreated based on original samples. This includes paint colors, carpet, coffee mugs, clothing items and even ashtrays. The artifacts have all been placed exactly as they were at the time.
A lesser well-known aspect of the achievement was the role played by glass. The Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York highlights the essential role glass played in putting a man on the moon.
“Simply put, the lunar landing would not have been possible without glass,” Kathryn Wieczorek, Science Educator at The Corning Museum of Glass, said. “Fiberglass insulated the Apollo 11 command module, which allowed it to withstand immense heat and safely enter Earth’s atmosphere, and VYCOR® windows protected the crew and enabled them to see the surface of the Moon as they approached.”
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VYCOR® was a 96 percent silica glass developed by Corning, Inc.
Windows don’t seem like a groundbreaking or critical technical breakthrough when stacked up against rockets, space suits and the lunar module, but they were. Apollo 11’s initial landing spot was deemed too rocky by the astronauts—who could only determine that by looking out the window when they arrived—and they could only find a better spot by, again, looking out the window.
Those windows had to be extraordinarily engineered to withstand the stresses of space.
“All of the windows in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo—the first generation of spacecraft—Corning supplied windows for all of them,” Marvin Bolt, Curator of Science and Technology at The Corning Museum of Glass. “Corning also supplied windows for Skylab and the Space Shuttle so, if there’s a window, Corning supplied it.”
Journey to the Moon: How Glass Got Us There, on display through January 31, 2020, also features a lunar meteorite found in northwest Africa and purchased by the Corning Museum of Glass for this exhibition, allowing visitors to literally touch the moon.
While only 12 people have walked on the moon, untold millions have attempted to photograph it.
At the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography surveys visual representations of the moon from the dawn of photography through the present. In addition to photographs, the show, which runs through September 22, features a selection of related drawings, prints, paintings, films, astronomical instruments and cameras used by Apollo astronauts.
Exhibition highlights include two newly discovered lunar daguerreotypes from the 1840s, believed to be the earliest existing photographs of the moon, and stunning photographs captured by early lunar expeditions sent by both the American and Soviet space programs.
Through January 5, 2020, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., more remarkable photos can be seen in its exhibit, By the Light of the Silvery Moon: A Century of Lunar Photographs.
Similar to The Met show, the National Gallery has early examples of moon photos from the mid-1850s along with shots taken from the moon’s surface. Glass stereographs, taken by Armstrong and Aldrin, show close-up views of three-inch-square areas of the lunar surface.
Also included are a selection of photographs from the unmanned Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter missions that led up to Apollo 11.
On July 16, 1969, the day Apollo 11 left Earth for the moon, dozens of scientists, engineers and support personnel busied themselves with last-minute details. There was only one artist present during the pre-launch activities: Paul Calle. He could be found sketching various scenes including breakfast, suiting up and the walk-out to the spacecraft.
A landmark retrospective of Calle’s (1928-2010) career, Paul Calle’s Life of Exploration: From the Mountains to the Moon, is on display at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West through Oct. 20, 2020.
Why mountains? Why a Western museum?
In addition to his work for NASA and postage stamp designs which included First Man on the Moon, Calle was a prominent Western artist specializing in the imagery of mountain men, fur traders and Native Americans. All can be seen in the exhibit.
Leaving reality and Earth behind, let your imagination run wild at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art where Far Out: Suits, Habs, and Labs for Outer Space celebrates the visionary ideas and ingenious solutions from architects, artists, and designers who dared to imagine life among the stars.
This exhibition presents realized and conceptual designs for space suits, habitats, and laboratories alongside a selection of film and visual art. Organized by SFMOMA’s Architecture and Design department, Far Out: Suits, Habs, and Labs for Outer Space underscores the importance of both applied and theoretical design in forwarding new models for life beyond earth.
Or, you can just go to a ball game.
The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and Major League Baseball have partnered on a program to place 15 replica statues of Armstrong’s spacesuit across ballparks nationwide. “Apollo at the Park” participants include the Red Sox, Cubs, Braves and Yankees.