Saturday, December 10, 2011

Space Tourists Put Their Soyuz Capsules on Display


Thanks to a little serendipity and the generosity of two of the first space tourists, visitors to aerospace museums on both coasts will soon be able to check out their Russian Soyuz capsules side-by-side with a space shuttle.

Initially millionaire space tourist Greg Olsen loaned his Soyuz TMA-6 spacecraft to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York for public display in mid-November. This week Charles Simonyi took a similar step, telling officials at the Museum of Flight in Seattle that he too would be loaning his Soyuz TMA-13 to the museum, where it will be housed in their newly dedicated "Charles Simonyi Space Gallery." Simonyi’s Soyuz won’t be on display just yet though as it is presently still in Russia.

The "Charles Simonyi Space Gallery," a new 15,500 square foot annex will also house a 120-foot-long Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT), a full scale but wingless orbiter mockup that was used to train astronauts for 30-years. The FFT was retired by NASA along with the shuttle fleet earlier this year.

In New York, Olsen’s Soyuz was hoisted onto the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid for display, just as the flying test orbiter Enterprise will be when it arrives in Manhattan sometime next year. Enterprise, a atmospheric approach and landing test vehicle, will be housed on the carrier’s flight deck under a protective cover. The Intrepid plans to eventually move Enterprise into a proposed new museum facility to be built in an empty lot across from where the carrier is currently berthed on the Hudson River.

The museum annex in Seattle was originally built in anticipation of the award of one of the retired shuttles, but plans were revised when Seattle was not selected as a host city. Simonyi, a Seattle area native and the creative force behind Microsoft Office, donated $3 million of the total $12 million cost of the annex, was the fifth person to pay his way into space and the only voyager to make the self-funded trip twice. He first flew to the space station onboard the Soyuz TMA-10 in April 2007, and the capsule he is loaning to the museum returned him to earth after his second two-week flight in April 2009.

According to Space.com:

"This imposing new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery could not have become a reality without Dr. Simonyi's continued support for the Museum of Flight and his vision about what our future can hold," Museum of Flight president and CEO Doug King said in a statement. "While we are grateful for his monetary contribution, we truly named the gallery in honor of Charles to recognize his commitment to aerospace education and his tireless enthusiasm for inspiring the next generation of space explorers."

In addition to the capsule, Simonyi is also providing the museum with his spacesuit and a "space toilet," among other memorabilia he kept from his two missions. Those items, together with other space artifacts — including the centerpiece full-scale shuttle trainer — will be used by the museum to exhibit how astronauts train for their missions and how the knowledge gained during the first 50 years of spaceflight has helped prepare for future missions farther into the solar system.

"The naming of the space gallery is a great honor for me and for my family," Simonyi said Thursday. "I have the highest regard for the Museum of Flight and now that we are at the threshold of a great expansion of civilian space flight, I fully support the museum's efforts to engage the public on the issue of space exploration with a focus on civilian space: past, present and future."

Olsen’s Soyuz from his October 2005 flight  arrived on the aircraft carrier on Oct. 18, and was made available for public viewing a month later on Nov. 14. Olsen told Space.com:

"I hope the exhibit at the Intrepid will not only spotlight the great engineering at the core of Russia's space program, but also inspire kids to pursue their own dreams and to never give up," Olsen said.

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