While researching things to do in Florida, I discovered a museum dedicated to the Russian space program. My heart beat faster: we would be staying in St. Pete Beach, on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. We could go there! Then came the crushing realization that the museum was located in St. Petersburg, Russia, not St. Petersburg, Florida.
While I’m fascinated, amazed, and proud of all of America’s accomplishments in space, I’m also fascinated by the Russian efforts. Their country sent men into space before we did. In response to their efforts, America switched over from the Air Force space plane programs (such as the X-1, X-2, and X-15) to NASA’s space capsules for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Then we discarded the capsule concept--in part because we always splashed down in the middle of the ocean, which necessitated huge sea-going recovery efforts--and reverted to the space plane idea for the Space Shuttle program. Now we’ve discarded the space plane concept, and are reverting to the space capsule for Project Orion. Meanwhile, the Russians have operated space capsules continuously since Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space. Unlike ours, their capsules can actually land, which saves on Naval recovery efforts. And while America built Skylab (and then let it burn up in the atmosphere), the Russians operated space stations continuously from the early 1970s, until the construction of the International Space Station.
While experimentation is good, every time America decides to retool our equipment and operations necessitates a break in our space program. While we’re doing this rebuilding and redirecting process again, our astronauts are hitching rides up to the ISS in Russian capsules, which according to officials at Kennedy Space Center costs us over sixty million dollars per astronaut. Meanwhile, the Russians have persisted with the concepts and programs that worked for them, and thereby saved themselves long breaks and costly retooling efforts.
At any rate, my Internet search bore fruit when I discovered The U. S. Space Walk of Fame Museum. Operated by volunteers in a modest office building in Titusville, Florida, it houses a wealth of information, equipment, and paraphernalia covering the American space program. There’s a simulated control room where children (of all ages) can get an idea of all the equipment and duties associated with a rocket launch. There are displays of the rockets that launched Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. A visitor can page through booklets, see spacesuits, posters, models, and collectible memorabilia. I cannot even begin to describe everything packed into the tiny building. On the morning my wife and I visited, we had the museum to ourselves. Thus we had time to page through the photo albums, reports and manuals, and photograph the displays for future perusal.
Believe it or not, there’s even a small area dedicated to the Russian space program!
The U. S. Space Walk of Fame Museum may not be the high-gloss production of Kennedy Space Center, but if you’re interested in seeing a wealth of informative and fun displays in a low-key atmosphere, be sure to check it out. Not only is it less expensive than a day at Kennedy Space Center (although that’s a fun place too), it’ll save you thousands of dollars on a trip to Russia.
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