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New Exhibit Opens
Center Director Kevin Petersen, right, gets a tour of the Gift Shop's new Space Race exhibit from Dryden historian/archivist Peter Merlin. Center Director Kevin Petersen, right, gets a tour of the Gift Shop's new Space Race exhibit from Dryden historian/archivist Peter Merlin. (NASA Photo / Tony Landis). A temporary exhibit titled "Space Race to Space Partnership: The Evolution of U.S.-Russian Relations in Orbit" is now on display in the Dryden Visitor Center and Gift Shop through the end of the year. The exhibit, designed and assembled by Dryden historian/archivist Peter Merlin, was created as part of the observation of NASA's 50th anniversary.

Many of the artifacts and items of memorabilia are from Merlin's personal collection. Other material is on loan from Dryden research librarian Karl Bender, the Dryden History Office, the AERO Institute, and from Carmen Arevalo, administrative assistant to the center director. Steve Spandorf built a scale model, donated by Bender, of the Apollo lunar excursion module.

"We want to change the displays in the Visitor Center, and the 50th anniversary celebration gave us a good reason," said Merlin. "I thought it would be interesting to look at the anniversary from the perspective of the space race and the changing relations between the U.S. and Russian space programs over the past half-century."

Among the Russian items on display are a spacesuit glove used during spacewalks outside the Soviet Salyut space station and a hammer used to make repairs on the Mir station. "Perhaps my favorite item is the launch key used at Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan," Merlin said. "At the command, 'Key, on Start,' the launch controller turned this key to initiate ignition of the Soyuz rocket's main engines."

Dryden was involved in virtually all U.S. manned spaceflight programs but some of the artifacts on display have special relevance to the center. A rare crew patch from the cancelled Manned Orbiting Laboratory program recalls retired Dryden research pilot and shuttle astronaut C. Gordon Fullerton, one of the astronauts selected for the MOL project. The checklists Fullerton used later in space shuttle approach and landing tests at Dryden are also featured in the exhibit.

Then there is the display keyboard from the Apollo 15 guidance and navigation control panel that was flown to the moon and back in July 1971 and later used in Dryden's F-8 Digital Fly-By-Wire research aircraft. Memorabilia commemorating the joint U.S.-Soviet Apollo/Soyuz mission bears the name of astronaut Vance Brand, who spent the latter part of his NASA career at Dryden. There are also several models of lifting body research aircraft and the X-15, all of which were flown at Dryden and contributed to development of the shuttle.

The Space Race grew out of the so-called Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union (Russia and its satellite states), the world's two most powerful nations to emerge from World War II. For a half-century, the two superpowers competed for primacy in a global struggle pitting a democratic society against totalitarian communism.

Space was a crucial arena for this rivalry. Before a watchful world, each side sought to demonstrate its superiority through impressive feats in rocketry and spaceflight. Early Soviet successes - theirs was the first satellite in orbit, first man in space, first woman in space, first spacewalk, etc. - forced the U.S. to play catch-up and spurred the two superpowers to race toward the moon. National resolve and superior technology eventually placed American astronauts on the lunar surface.

Following technical and administrative problems, and a string of disasters, the Soviets abandoned plans for manned lunar expeditions and turned instead to a permanent presence in low-Earth orbit. By the mid-1970s, the U.S. space program had also changed its focus, sending robotic explorers out into the solar system while astronauts learned how to work aboard orbital stations and space shuttles. Visitor Center hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.