Sitting quietly in the dimmed light, guests of the Stafford Air and Space Museum had a unique experience Saturday night. Seated between two historic spacecraft, guests witnessed one of the greatest missions NASA ever conducted: the rescue of Apollo 13.
Seated just next to the colossal Titan II rocket, first used as a weapon in the cold war then turned into the launch catalyst for the Gemini program, and a full scale Apollo Command and Service Module, which carried Americans to the moon, guests were treated to a night at the movies unlike no other.
The event began with Museum Director Max Ary welcoming nearly 150 guests to the museum’s third event in its lecture series “Stories at the Stafford.” In his welcome to the guests, Ary unveiled the huge Apollo Command and Service and Module, the newest major acquisition for the museum.
The Apollo spacecraft was the three-manned vehicle that was capable of meeting President Kennedy’s goal of landing on the moon, and that won the great “Space Race” for the U.S. General Stafford flew two Apollo’s into space, including one to the moon during the Apollo 10 mission. During this mission, Stafford was the first to fly the Lunar Module spacecraft into orbit around the moon, and to fly down within 50,000 feet of the lunar surface. The mission paved the way for Apollo 11 to make the first lunar landing in July, 1969. Stafford would later fly the last Apollo into space during his historic Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975 – the first international space flight conducted between two old Cold War enemies, the Soviet Union and the United States.
Ary then introduced co-hosts of the evening, the Oklahoma Space Alliance who was there to celebrate “Yuri’s Night.” He introduced OSA President Stephen Swift who shared information with guests about OSA, its purpose, and the importance of future space exploration. Swift also explained the reasoning behind Yuri’s Night – a global celebration held in honor of the past, present, and future of space exploration.
“’Yuri’s Night’ is named after Yuri Gagarin who in 1961 became the first human launched into space. With this celebration, we salute the pioneers in space and we embrace humanity’s future in space: exploring, discovering, and living in orbit and on new worlds.”
Preceding the showing of the movie “Apollo 13,” Ary provided the audience with many background stories about the making of the film, as well as the actual mission. Ary was the chief technical advisor on the film, and worked closely with director Ron Howard in the film’s production. Numerous actual artifacts from the museum’s collection were shown to prepare the audience to what actually happened during the mission that led to a fuel cell oxygen tank exploding, crippling the spacecraft, and nearly stranding the astronauts in space. An actual oxygen tank and fuel cell, exactly like the ones involved in the explosion, were shown to explain what happened.
With Ary’s detailed explanation of the mission setting the stage, the lights were dimmed and the music filled the gallery as the Academy Award winning -movie took over the evening. During the film, certain facts were displayed upon one of the panels of the Apollo Spacecraft for the guests to read regarding various scenes in the movie. One interesting fact was the Chief of Astronauts during the Apollo 13 mission was Tom Stafford, who demanded the Lunar Module be immediately powered up to be used as a “lifeboat” after the Command Module had to be shut-down following the explosion in its Service Module. Other facts featured were the identification of Oklahomans and SWOSU graduates who were involved with Mission Control during Apollo 13 such as John Aaron and museum member and guest Tom Weichel.
Following the movie, guests asked Ary numerous questions about the movie production and the Apollo 13 mission.
The museum plans to conduct another “Stories at the Stafford” early this fall.