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Astronaut Hall of Fame opens shuttle wing

Visitors tour the new U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame exhibit, "Space Shuttle: The Astronaut Experiences." (collectSPACE)
May 7, 2008

— Since opening in 1990 outside the gate to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame has honored America's early space pioneers through the exhibition of their personal memorabilia. The displays told the story of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo veterans, all of whom were enshrined in the Hall.

Beginning in 2001 however, the Hall began recognizing a new class of astronauts: those who flew missions on the space shuttle. Those astronauts, selected for inclusion at a rate of three to four a year and now numbering 25 with the latest class of four added over the weekend of May 4, also loaned artifacts from their collections but the Hall did not have a place to exhibit them.

That is, until last week, when its owners, Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts, which operates the Hall on NASA's behalf, debuted a new orbiter-dedicated wing, the "Space Shuttle: The Astronaut Experiences."

"The [new exhibit] shares the human story behind the space shuttle program and chronicles major milestones and space travel accomplishments of more than two decades," said Dan LeBlanc, Chief Operating Officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which includes the Hall of Fame.

"Space Shuttle: The Astronaut Experiences" includes space and flight suits worn some of the first orbiter crew members.

The expansion, which continues from where the visitor's path previously came to an end — with the 1975 Apollo- Soyuz Test Project — picks up with a display of models and hardware chronicling the early development of the world's first reusable winged spacecraft. The exhibit then uses memorabilia loaned by the space shuttle inductees to share the story of the first astronauts chosen for the program in 1978 on through the experience of working and living in space as a permanent destination.

The new wing also incorporates a display that honors the memory of the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia fallen crews. Dick Scobee, commander of the ill-fated STS-51L mission was enshrined into the Hall in 2004. His class of 1978 "Thirty Five New Guys" astronaut group t-shirt, one of his most cherished possessions, is on display.

Other artifacts and items donated from the astronauts' personal collections include Bob Crippen's flight suit and boots worn on STS-1, the first space shuttle mission; a food tray and flown galley alongside samples of space food including shrimp, asparagus and Mexican scrambled egg; an orbiter overhead window; Norm Thagard's penguin suit worn aboard the Russian Space Station Mir; and a mid-deck chair that was flown on missions by Columbia and Challenger.

The exhibits are enhanced by original audio interviews with Sally Ride, Charlie Bolden, Story Musgrave and other shuttle astronauts describing aspects of their flight. Crippen, as the first shuttle pilot, shares what he was thinking during the countdown for launch, for example.

"No where else can you find a more comprehensive collection of personal space memorabilia from the American space exploration program with the addition of the space shuttle program, than at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame," said LeBlanc.

LEFT: Space and flight suits; RIGHT: a shuttle tool box

LEFT: Jackets and checklists; RIGHT: a window and chair

LEFT: Scobee's TFNG t-shirt; RIGHT: various memorabilia

LEFT: shuttle food galley; RIGHT: Thagard's penguin suit

LEFT: Fred Gregory's cap; RIGHT: Owen Garriott's ham radio

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