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To the Moon: The American Space Program in the 1960s

By: LBJ Library & Museum, George Bush Library and Museum
By: LBJ Library & Museum, George Bush Library and Museum

August 27, 2008 would have been the 100th birthday of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. It has become customary to celebrate this grand milestone of our former Commanders in Chief with a year-long celebration. In honor of President Johnson’s Centennial, the LBJ Library & Museum will present To the Moon: The American Space Program in the 1960s, a major exhibit celebrating man’s venture into space. The exhibit will open on President Johnson’s 100th birthday, August 27, 2008, and close on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, July 20, 2009. The exhibit also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the creation of NASA.

The Museum at the George Bush Presidential Library and the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, in partnership with NASA's Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston, will tell the story of America's exploration into the final frontier. The LBJ Library will begin with man's fascination with the heavens through the first walk on the moon. The George Bush Presidential Library continues the story with the end of Apollo, Skylab, the Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station. Large scale models, original shuttle equipment, a shuttle simulator, and interactive programs are just a few of the spectacular items to be displayed. The third part of the story, which will explore what's next for the future of NASA, will take place at Space Center Houston. The countdown begins...!

From the time he was Senate Majority Leader in the 1950s, Lyndon Johnson did more to facilitate the rapid progress of the space program than any other American leader. Johnson co-sponsored legislation for the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, and as Vice-President, was appointed Chairman of the National Space Council by President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy asked the Space Council to examine America’s space program and the feasibility of a lunar landing. In a memo to Kennedy, Johnson recommended that “with a strong effort the United States could conceivably be first” to achieve Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” by the end of the decade. Later, in one of the most awe-inspiring and dramatic stories of our time, President Johnson ensured that this goal remained on track, was funded, and that the mission was accomplished.

The primary focus of the exhibit will cover the period of “Sputnik” (late 1950s) through the first moon landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. Each step of the space programs Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, will be featured, as well as the “milestone” flights of astronauts Alan Shepard, John Glenn, and Ed White.

To the Moon will feature eye-catching, visually attractive state-of-the-art elements to match the ambitious scope of the subject and meet the expectations of a modern audience.

The LBJ Library’s space exhibit will coincide with a space exhibit featuring Skylab, the Shuttle Missions, and the International Space Station at the George H. W. Bush Library at Texas A&M University at College Station. The two presidential libraries are collaborating in creating promotional materials, advertising, and pursuing news media coverage.

To The Moon Exhibit highlights:

From the earliest days of civilization, man has been fascinated with the mysteries and wonder of outer space. The exhibit will cover the ancient world’s study of the celestial bodies, and then showcase the revolutionary works and discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, and Albert Einstein. Visitors will have the rare opportunity to see the original publication of On the Revolutions of Celestial Spheres by Copernicus, the handwritten manuscript of Einstein’s The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity, as well as a working replica of Galileo’s telescope.

The early sections will also explore the emerging literary genre of science fiction, which gained enormous popularity during the mid-nineteenth century. Visitors will enjoy a blast from the past - black and white science fiction films, vintage video posters, and audio from A War of the Worlds. A timeline discussing the history of aviation – from the Wright brothers through the test pilots who broke the sound barrier – will be featured, including the role of aviation in military history. Plans include a special display on Dr. Robert Goddard, the father of American rocketry, including a replica of Goddard’s laboratory. Another highlight is a replica of Chuck Yaeger’s X-1 cockpit that visitors can sit in and experience what it may have been like to break the sound barrier.

The exhibit will then focus on the Johnson era, starting with the launch of the world’s first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. In a quest to catch up with the Soviets, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson initiated hearings to determine how the U.S. could forge ahead in the “space race,” ultimately culminating in Johnson co-sponsoring legislation creating NASA. Several years later, President Kennedy appointed Vice President Johnson to head the development of the space program. A montage of film and media clippings will illustrate the response of the American public and government to the Soviet launches.

Large displays comparing the Russian and American space capsules will represent the first phase in the quest to reach the moon, Project Mercury. Profiles of the Mercury 7 astronauts and memorabilia from John Glenn’s pivotal flight orbiting Earth (flight helmet, rocket fragment, heat shield from “Friendship 7”) will also feature prominently.

Project Gemini represented the second phase in the “moon quest,” bridging Mercury and Apollo. In this section of the exhibit we plan to include a simulator that reenacts the feel of a real spacewalk. The exhibit will also devote extensive resources to the Apollo Missions – including an array of original memorabilia (flight suits, Mission Control consoles, the Engine Thrust Control Panel – Lunar Landing Research Vehicle, portable life support system) along with vintage photography and film footage. In particular, the Apollo 11 moon mission will be dramatized via a life-like scene of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planting the American flag on the moon.

The grand finale of To The Moon: The American Space Program in the 1960s will be a visually stunning presentation inspired by the dramatic story of America’s quest to land a man on the moon. Using state-of-the-art media equipment, this eight-minute show will feature swirling picture and film images, actual audio clips from Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and music in a planetarium-designed theater. The presentation is intended to underscore the exhibit by chronicling the highlights of the space program in the 1960s. The experience will appeal to the visitor’s sense of national pride and leave them inspired about the future of space exploration.


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