Oklahoma Astronaut Reunited with Spacecraft Five Decades after Historic Flight
A significant event in the world of spaceflight relics is taking place this July that is unprecedented between two Smithsonian Affiliate Institutions. The flown Gemini VI spacecraft has been moved from the Oklahoma History Center (OHC) in Oklahoma City to the Stafford Air and Space Museum (SASM) in Weatherford, OK for long-term display.
To acquire a flown spacecraft is a rare and very special opportunity given to only a select few institutions in the entire world. Most spacecraft are seldom relocated when acquired by a specific facility, but through collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution and three Smithsonian affiliates – OHC, SASM, and the Kansas Cosmosphere, the historic move of the flown Gemini VI spacecraft has been accomplished.
“For the Stafford Museum to receive the actual flown Gemini 6 spacecraft for display from the Smithsonian takes the museum to a whole new level in its development! There are only 38 flown American manned spacecraft that have survived, and Gemini 6 is one of THE most historic as it performed the first rendezvous in space – one of space exploration’s greatest milestones! To now have that spacecraft sitting in the museum named for the pilot of Gemini 6 makes this event extra special!” exclaimed SASM Executive Director, Max Ary.
This collaboration project began almost five years ago, and initially appeared daunting and impossible from many standpoints, specifically for the fact that flown spacecraft are seldom moved from their designated facilities. State Representative, Harold Wright, who resides in Stafford’s hometown of Weatherford, Oklahoma, was a key supporter of the move from the very beginning. Ultimately, it was a mutual understanding between all parties that Stafford’s flown spacecraft should be displayed respectfully and rightfully in his namesake museum located in his hometown of Weatherford, OK.
The Stafford Air and Space Museum was created to not only maintain the extraordinary legacy of Tom Stafford, but to inspire the future generations of youth to dream, and follow those dreams to explore. General Stafford’s story is told through many of the artifacts housed in the museum, and the Gemini VI exhibit further exemplifies his accomplishments as an astronaut.
“Tom Stafford on Gemini 6 made his reputation. He became known as an engineering astronaut and a thinking astronaut because he understood the orbital mechanics very clearly and that was I think where he got the reputation he has today as being an outstanding astronaut, outstanding manager, and an outstanding thinker. So I think the Gemini program sort of made Tom Stafford,” explained Chris Kraft, former JSC Flight Director.
As General Stafford peered into the glass case containing his Gemini VI spacecraft during a special debut event for museum members on Saturday, one has to wonder what thoughts race through his mind. Members were able to hear first-hand accounts from Stafford through his personal stories about the mission.
Young Tom Stafford grew up in a small, western Oklahoma town during the Dust Bowl dreaming of flying from the time he was just 4 years old. That same little boy would go on to fly four historic spaceflight missions, including Gemini VI when he and Wally Schirra performed the first rendezvous in space with the Gemini 7 spacecraft on December 15, 1965. Without the success of the Gemini VI mission, a lunar landing would not have been possible.
It is a very special event when after fifty three years after his historic flight, this small town Oklahoma boy, now a renowned astronaut, has been reunited with his Gemini VI spacecraft in his hometown.
The Stafford Museum has grown to an institution that houses over an acre of exhibits under roof and is quickly gaining regional and national recognition. With the addition of the Gemini VI spacecraft, the museum will contain one of the most complete Gemini galleries in the world including an actual Titan II Rocket and hundreds more of Gemini related artifacts.
The gallery will be augmented with a variety of state-of the-art interactive exhibits, such as a replicated Gemini cockpit that visitors can get in and attempt to dock with an Agena, and an actual Titan II first stage engine that will show how a rocket steers itself by the gimballing of the engines.
This entire exhibit will be made possible through the museum’s $5 million Legacy Campaign to expand the museum by 20,000 square feet. The museum has already raised $4 million towards this goal. Please join General Stafford and the Legacy Campaign to add your name to a project that will leave a legacy for you and your family! For further information, please contact Max Ary, Executive Director of the Stafford Air and Space Museum at 580-772-5871 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Stafford Air and Space Museum is located along Route 66 on I-40 and Exit 84
in Weatherford and welcomes visitors seven days a week, 361 days a year!