‘Reaching New Heights’

Local astronauts featured in new space exhibit

Published: Friday, July 12, 2013 11:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 12, 2013 1:39 p.m. CDT
(Contributed photo)
Peggy Whitson, formerly of Mount Ayr, poses for an official NASA photo. Whitson holds the record of being in space the most days for any American female astronaut.


CNA staff reporter •

MARION — To infinity and beyond!

Even though space stretches out beyond millions of light years, a new exhibit allows those interested in space to learn about it right here in Iowa.

Reaching New Heights

The new exhibit, titled Reaching New Heights, will commemorate the 50th anniversary of women in space and 30th anniversary of Sally Ride’s first trip in space. Ride was the first woman to travel in outer space. The exhibit is located at Summit Pointe Senior Living Community in Marion.

“The exhibit also commemorates Iowa’s strong legacy in space travel, including the state’s first astronaut, which was Walter Cunningham of Creston,” said David V. Wendell, curator of the exhibit.

Wendell said Peggy Whitson, formerly of Mount Ayr and the most experienced American female astronaut, is delivering the keynote address for the dedication of the exhibit, as well as hosting a roundtable discussion with Iowans who served in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs.

Cunningham and Whitson

Cunningham was born in Creston in 1932, and graduated from high school in California. He joined the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War, and became a naval aviator during the Cold War.

In 1963, NASA selected Cunningham to join a group of astronauts including Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, second man on the moon.

In 1968, Cunningham, Donn Eisele and Walter Schirra became the first group to man an Apollo Space mission since three astronauts died in the Apollo I countdown fire in 1967.

Cunningham is currently retired and living in Texas.

Whitson, formerly of Mount Ayr, has the longest stay in space for a woman, totalling more than 376 days. She was part of Expedition V at the International Space Station in 2002, and was commander during Expedition XVI at the station.

Whitson served as chief of the astronaut office from October 2009 to July 2012. Chief of the astronaut office is the highest leadership position an active astronaut can hold.

She is currently still active with NASA as an administrative astronaut. She assists in the training of current and future active astronauts in the corps.

Toys and tomatoes

Reaching New Heights will be presented 1 p.m. Sunday. Summit Pointe Senior Living Community is located at 3505 English Glen Ave. in Marion.

“This is an event for people of all ages, because we will also be re-enacting the experiments conducted in the Toys in Space program, with toys that were flown in space,” Wendell said. “And, we will also be planting tomato seeds that were flown in the space shuttle Challenger.”

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had a program in 1985 to encourage students to be interested in science. The program was an experiment of how toys reacted in weightlessness, and school children planned what toys should be taken in space.

“So, traditional toys like paddleball and jacks, as well as spinning tops, and even paper airplanes were all brought into space onboard STS-51D, and they conducted experiments with these toys so that the children on Earth could watch the experiments in their classrooms and learn the difference between Earth and space,” Wendell said.

Another part of the program took place in 1990, when tomato seeds were taken in space to discover what effect weightlessness would have on how plants grow. Many seeds were brought back, and some of those seeds will be planted during the exhibit.

“We want to plant a seed of excitement about space for the young people of Iowa,” Wendell said. “It’s very important to me to remember the past, so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of it.”

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