News Column

Charlotte Museum Getting NASA Artifacts from Shuttle Program

Jan. 22, 2013

Mark Washburn

Pieces of NASA's space shuttle program soon will be landing in Charlotte.

In a key acquisition of space history, an emergency escape basket -- designed to whisk astronauts away from the launch pad in event of trouble -- will become part of the permanent collection at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, Shawn Dorsch, the museum's president, said Monday.

It is part of a cache of items from the shuttle program that the space agency is assigning to prominent museums across the nation, Dorsch said. Other shuttle equipment is expected to be earmarked for the Charlotte museum soon, he said.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime, golden opportunity to get these artifacts," Dorsch said.

Additionally, NASA has notified the museum that it will be getting other items on loan by mid-March, including a production model of the Hubble Space Telescope, an astronaut survival kit and a one-third scale model of the Apollo command module from the moon program.

Expanding the museum's collection of space-related items is a priority at the fast-growing exhibition center behind Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Dorsch said the space program represents the latest in aviation technology and serves as an inspiration for younger generations.

Rare Items in Storage

Already in the museum's vault are artifacts from the Mercury program of the 1960s, which was the nation's first foray into manned spaceflight. In storage are five launch consoles from Mercury bunkers at Cape Canaveral and a plotting board for tracing the trajectory of launches. They will be put on display with the shuttle items.

Equipment from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space flights are relatively rare because most were scrapped after the programs ended, Dorsch said. NASA ensured that shuttle artifacts would be saved for historical purposes and invited museums three years ago to apply for vestiges of the program, which spanned 135 missions from 1981 to 2011.

NASA is considering other requests from the Charlotte museum for items including space gloves, heat tiles and a shuttle engine.

Baskets Never Used

Emergency escape baskets were designed to carry up to three suited astronauts who would have to climb out of the shuttle onto the gantry, enter the pods and then slide down wires at a speed of more than 50 mph to a bunker 1,200 feet away. Seven baskets were typically rigged on the tower.

Though astronauts were drilled on their use, emergency evacuation baskets were never needed on the launch pad. Two shuttle missions ended in disaster: Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch in 1986 and Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003.

Carolinas Aviation Museum has grown from a small exhibition in an old airport hangar to a modern venue attracting tens of thousands of visitors annually. Its prime attraction is the Flight 1549 jetliner that belly-landed after takeoff from LaGuardia in the "Miracle on the Hudson" incident in 2009.


Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Source: (c) 2013 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

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