Apollo Space Exhibit Opens
The inspirational words of President John F. Kennedy challenging the nation to go to the Moon echo off the sides of a towering replica of the Lunar Module that landed American astronauts on the lunar surface in a new exhibit about the Apollo program opened on March 17th at the National Naval Aviation Museum on board Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida.
The museum has long displayed items connected to naval aviation’s role in the space program, notably the Skylab II command module that has been on loan from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum since 1973. However, the acquisition of a Lunar Module replica by the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation in 2013, provided the impetus to develop an exhibit devoted specifically to the Apollo program.
“From the very beginning of our nation’s space program U.S. naval aviation has played a major role and naval aviators have made extraordinary contributions,” said museum director, Captain Robert Rasmussen, USN (Ret.). “Celebrating these achievements in this state-of-the-art exhibit was the driving force for the museum staff members, who created it entirely in-house from concept to design to construction and installation. It is a worthy tribute to a spectacular period of Navy and American history.”
In addition to the lunar module replica, the exhibit incorporates a replica Apollo spacesuit and lunar rover, all positioned on a surface made to resemble the dusty landscape of the Moon, complete with footprints. An interesting storyline that has not been presented to museum visitors before is the Navy’s role in the recovery of the Apollo command modules after splashdown. To this end, visitors can get an up-close look at a boilerplate capsule of the type used for training recovery crews and an array of artifacts used during the recovery of the Apollo XI astronauts, many on loan from the Naval History and Heritage Command, notably the rescue basket in which Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were hoisted up to an SH-3 Sea King helicopter for transport to the antisubmarine warfare carrier Hornet (CVS 12).
In addition to artifacts, the exhibit presents the sights and sounds of Apollo through a network of directional speakers and monitors. Editing the rich collection of footage shot by NASA, museum staff created short films that present a veritable anatomy of an Apollo mission from launch to surface activity on the Moon to splashdown. A stacked series of flat screen monitors showing a Saturn V launch is sure to be popular among visitors.
With the first and last men to walk on the Moon and six of the seven Apollo missions to the moon commanded by naval aviators, the new exhibit is a fitting commemoration of the Navy’s role in space exploration as well as a reminder of a signature period in American history.