Monday, April 2, 2012

Redwood Astronaut


I always love it when I can check off another place on my World Map of Space Museums, and this past month I visited two! The amazing Heureka Planetarium in Helsinki, Finland is a bit too dark for photographs, but pictures are much easier at the Chabot Space & Science Center, nestled among the redwood trees of the Oakland hills!

Astronaut Rex Walheim
Rex Walheim with Flat Stanely...
hey, I saw that guy take-off!

Lucky me, I got to hear an STS-135 astronaut speak about the final Shuttle mission, and he just happens to be our California homeboy from Redwood City. Well, just about every city in my area of California is packed with redwoods, and I love that Rex J. Walheim grew up only a short drive from where I myself did.

The Beyond Blastoff exhibit at Chabot is definitely worth a visit, to learn about exercising in space, working in weightlessness, and space food, including menus and samples of current space station fare. Unlike other American museums that showcase NASA items, Chabot also features many comparative technologies of the Russian Soviet space program.

Soyuz Module Flown in the 1980s

I had only ever seen a Vostok capsule once in Texas, and of course the Soyuz mock-up in the SVMF at Johnson Space Center –- but this was my first look at a space-flown Soyuz Descent Module, the model in use since the 1960s. I've always found these to be quite fascinating, given their differences to American capsules.

Parachutes (sadly not present in this display) slow the module fall when it returns to Earth from space, but unlike the Apollo crafts which landed in water, small rockets fire to soften the impact just prior to landing, and the Soyuz bumps down on hard ground, usually in remote areas of Kazakhstan.

Sokol Spacesuit
Sokol suit of LĂ©opold Eyhart from his 1998 mission to Mir

Of course, one Soyuz module is always attached to the ISS these days for "escape hatch" purposes, though thankfully a bit more upgraded than the museum pieces!

Chabot also features a replica of the Sputnik 2 "dog cabin" which housed little Laika on her trip to space in 1957, a complete Orlan DMA Extra-Vehicular Activity space suit manufactured in 1996, and a Russian Sokol KV-2 space suit, which all cosmonauts still wear on each mission, to protect them from cabin pressure changes during launches and landings.

Mercury Capsule at Chabot Space and Science Center
Mercury Capsule (1961-1963)

Last but not least, and the most fun for little me -– and it does help to be LITTLE in this case – is the Mercury Capsule mock-up! I've seen many of those that have flown, but never a mockup that one could sit inside! And I see now why John Glenn(?) quipped that "you don't ride in the Mercury spacecraft, you WEAR it."

The complete picture set is in my Chabot Album in the Pillownaut Gallery on Google Picasa!