New exhibit honors NASA astronauts
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s earliest and greatest astronauts gathered at Kennedy Space Center on Friday to mark the grand opening of a new space exhibit in which they’re the stars.
Thirty astronauts, three of them moonwalkers, took part in the outdoor ceremony, including two who had extra reason to celebrate. Fifty years ago Friday, Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin launched on Gemini 12, the last of that program.
With all the excitement, Lovell forgot about Friday’s anniversary — until reminded by a reporter. He said spacewalks and rendezvous were refined on the two-man Gemini missions and “opened up the road to Apollo.”
He later flew on Apollo — Apollo 8, the first manned flight to the moon, and the infamous, close-call Apollo 13.
Lovell’s Boy Scout handbook is on display at the exhibit’s new United States Astronaut Hall of Fame, along with his scouting sash and merit badges.
“I can’t believe it’s 50 years” since the last Gemini flight, said Thomas Stafford of Gemini 6 and 9, Apollo 10 and the Apollo-Soyuz joint mission between the United States and Soviet Union.
Stafford’s Gemini 9 capsule is on display. It’s minus its hatches, he noted, but otherwise still looks in good shape.
“It’s a beautiful exhibit,” Stafford, 86, said. “To me, it’s something that’s inspirational motivational for the young people.”
In all, 30 U.S. astronauts spanning Gemini to shuttle — two of them women — gathered at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for the morning ceremony, which paid high tribute to NASA’s golden age of the 1960s and 1970s.
Also present: the children of the late Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and the late Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the moon.
Astronauts, from left, Virgil I. Grissom, John Glenn and Alan Shepard are seen in 1961. A new exhibit called “Heroes and Legends” opened at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.