National Museum of the U.S. Air Force shows, teaches America's space success

DAYTON, Ohio (WTVG) - From massive rockets to test planes the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force's space gallery is an impressive sight. Among all the astonishing displays sits some unassuming vessels that helped set the tone.

"When you look at those three spacecraft you can see the progression of human space flight, at least American human space flight," museum curator and historian Dr. Doug Lantry said.

The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo spacecraft all played vital roles in getting U.S. astronauts to the moon nearly 50 years ago. Lantry has dedicated his life to studying each one.

"If you look at all of these missions, through Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, one set of objectives built upon the other until you get to actually landing on the Moon," Lantry said.

While each mission played its part the museum is particularly proud of the Apollo 15 command module. A three-man, all Air Force crew traveled to the moon and back in the gumdrop-shaped vessel that's about the size of a mini-van.

"It was a cramped space, but then again these were extraordinary people—extraordinarily well trained, mission focused, disciplined," Lantry said.

Along with celebrating accomplishments on the moon, the museum also highlights the nation's next advancements in space exploration with displays like a space shuttle exhibit.

"It just adds that extra level that makes it extra special and more inspiring to them," museum educator Cindy Henry said.

Henry regularly uses the displays to help teach free math and science courses to people of all ages.

"We try to make them as much hands on as possible because we feel it's really important that they get experience with building things," Henry said.

While there's plenty to see and do, Henry says the shuttle exhibit is always a favorite as it includes a real NASA crew compartment trainer.

"You can get up in there and go and look into the mid-deck and see what the living quarters were like and the working quarters," Henry said. "You can go up some stairs and look into the flight deck and see where the astronauts piloted the shuttle."

By showing and teaching America's success in space the museum's hope is to inspire future generations to continue to reach for the heavens.

"The point is to be inspired that you too can join in something larger than yourself to achieve tremendous goals," Lantry said. "That's what this is all about."

On July 20th the museum will pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with a space-themed family day. There will be model rocket builds, presentations and other fun activities. Admission to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is free.