A Trip Through Time and Space
In March the Explorers visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force outside of Dayton, Ohio, to learn about the early days of the manned space program and the ways—and reasons—that astronauts landed on the moon.
Before their trip to the museum, the students watched an episode of the series “From the Earth to the Moon.” This episode focused on one mission in particular, Apollo 15. This mission was the first to use the lunar rover, a battery-powered dune buggy of sorts that allowed the astronauts to cover much more ground than previously possible (when walking was the only mode of transportation). Apollo 15 was also among the lunar missions most dedicated to scientific goals, especially those related to geology, and the show detailed how the astronauts’ training prepared them to recognize and select important samples to bring back to Earth.
While at the museum, the students examined a number of artifacts from the space program and discussed how they fit into the program’s overall goals. These ranged from a replica of Sputnik, the first satellite ever put into Earth orbit, to examples of actual spacecraft. These included both Mercury and Gemini capsules that were each “unflown”—the capsules were prepared for possible missions but were never actually used. The Mercury missions each launched a single astronaut into space in order to demonstrate that people could actually function in a weightless environment, while the Gemini missions each carried a pair of astronauts. The Gemini missions served as a “bridge” between the relatively simple Mercury missions and the ultimate goal of landing men on the moon, with a number of necessary but unproven steps—maneuvering the craft in space, working outside the space capsule, and meeting up and docking with another ship in space—being accomplished.
Following a look at some rockets, the group moved on to the crown jewel of the museum’s space collection: the command module from the Apollo 15 mission. It was this actual craft (named Endeavour) that carried astronauts David Scott, Al Worden, and Jim Irwin (all from the Air Force) to the moon and back in 1971. While there Scott and Irwin landed on the moon’s surface (in another craft, the lunar module Falcon) and spent three days exploring and collecting samples while Worden remained in Endeavour conducting observations and experiments from lunar orbit. Among the lunar samples brought back by the mission was a rock known as the “Genesis Rock,” one of the oldest rocks ever found—dated at more than four billion years old. This makes the rock nearly as old as the sun and solar system themselves!
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Before leaving the museum, the Explorers also took a look at the recently-arrived Shuttle Trainer. This is a training module that was used to prepare space shuttle crews for their missions. The museum currently plans to build a new hangar in the next few years—right now the shuttle trainer has limited access, but when the new hangar is complete the trainer will be part of an interactive exhibit that will allow visitors to get up close views of how the space shuttles looked and functioned.
To see some photos from our museum trip (courtesy of club assistant Lissa) check out the picture gallery. To learn more about the space program and the lunar landings, click on the links below.