On February 20, 1962, John Glenn made history as the first American in orbit—a moment that changed history and reestablished the United States as a major force in the Space Race. Glenn's suit, specially designed and fitted just for him, helped make this achievement possible. The suit was adapted to act as life support, in case the Friendship 7 spacecraft malfunctioned.
After pressing some buttons to start up the ascent engine of their lunar module Challenger, astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt left the Moon on December 14, 1972. That’s 39 years ago – before many of us were even born. While these men looked out the tiny triangular windows of the lunar module to see the lunar surface getting farther away, viewers around the world watched that same spacecraft leave the Moon, live and in color on their television sets.
The announcement last year that Bill Moggridge was selected to be the new head of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York gave me pause. In my daily work I tend to stay on a narrow path of aerospace-related topics, but that name sounded familiar. A glance at my bookshelf gave me the answer: before joining the Cooper-Hewitt, Moggridge was a co-founder of the international design firm IDEO, and while there he played a crucial role in the design of the world’s first laptop computer: the GRiD Compass, first marketed in 1982. The unusual capitalization of “GRiD” was a trademark of the company that developed it.
July 15-24 marked the 35th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), the famous “Handshake in Space.” ASTP was the first American-Soviet space flight, docking the last American Apollo spacecraft with the then-Soviet Soyuz spacecraft. This joint effort between the two major world players was based on an agreement signed in 1972, and it set a precedent for future joint efforts, such as the Shuttle-Mir Program and the International Space Station.
What do yogurt cups and juice bottles have to do with the International Space Station? If you dropped by the National Mall Building on Saturday, May 8, between 10am and 3pm, you would have seen this question being answered by hundreds of visitors, working together to build a space station out of recycled materials. Space Day is an annual family day program sponsored by Lockheed Martin. In addressing this year’s theme, “Looking at Earth from Space,” our astronaut guests explained the incredible feeling of seeing the circumference of the earth from the window of the shuttle. Curators from the National Air and Space Museum and presenters from research organizations used models and displays to show how satellites work and the cool things we can do with them. We want family days to engage audiences of all ages in fun, informal, educational activities.
Every year as the anniversary of the first human spaceflight approaches, I receive calls inquiring about the validity of Yuri Gagarin’s claim as the first human in space. The legitimate questions focus on the fact that Gagarin did not land inside his spacecraft.
The National Air and Space Museum is holding its first ever virtual conference for educators on Tuesday, November 10 from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. EST. Since we’re in the middle of the 40th anniversary commemorations of the Apollo missions, we decided to focus on this important period in American history. Staff from our Division of Space History will discuss some fascinating topics such as the real story behind President Kennedy’s famous speech challenging Congress to send Americans to the Moon; the role of computers—a new technology in the 1960s; the myth of presidential leadership during this time period; the intersections of Ralph Abernathy, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Moon landing; the rise of six iconic Apollo images and how they have been used over time; and the denials of the Moon landings by a small segment of the population and their evolution since the 1960s.