Dedicated to Wally Schirra, the only person to carry the distinction of flying in all three of the early space programs: Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.
In the 19th century, author Jules Verne's entertaining book From the Earth to the Moon inspired many innovative thinkers to set their sights on the stars. The result of their efforts, modern space flight, forms the subject of the Museum's Space Age exhibits.
This area of the museum includes full-size reproductions of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft, as well as several models and spacesuits. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union's Sputnik became the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space on April 12, 1961.
In the United States, NASA focused its efforts on preparing for an eventual lunar landing. The main goal of Project Mercury was to put an American in space. Astronaut Alan Shepard became that man on May 5, 1961. On February 20, 1962, John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth. Project Gemini concentrated on establishing and perfecting techniques that would be necessary in a lunar landing mission.
The Apollo program achieved America's goal of a safe lunar landing and return. The San Diego Air & Space Museum is proud to have on display the Apollo 9 Command Module on loan from the National Air and Space Museum. On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the lunar surface while Michael Collins orbited in the command module and millions on Earth watched from their living rooms. The next six Apollo missions allowed an additional 18 American astronauts to reach the moon.
During the late 1970s, NASA developed the Space Shuttle as a reusable space vehicle. The first shuttle, Columbia, launched into orbit on April 12, 1981. Shuttles have flown throughout the 1980s and 1990s, providing excellent opportunities for astronauts to conduct research in space.
The most recent development in space flight is the construction of the International Space Station (ISS), which began in November 1998. The ISS provides a long-term living and working environment for up to seven astronauts and cosmonauts.