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NC’s spaceflight contributions on display at North Carolina Museum of History

April 5, 2019

A new exhibit highlighting the state’s contributions to the space program opens on Friday at the North Carolina Museum of History. The exhibit focuses on North Carolina people, places and companies that helped get NASA to the Moon. There are astronauts like Charlotte-born moonwalker Charlie Duke and Michael Smith of Beaufort who went on to pilot the space shuttle. The Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to NASA Administrator, UNC graduate and Granville County native James Webb is on display. While a parachute splashdown was ultimately chosen for the Gemini program, Francis and Gertrude Rogallo’s design for returning capsules to Earth were refined on the same sands where the Wright Brothers perfected their flight. Their designs live on every day at Jockey’s Ridge in Kitty Hawk in today’s hang gliders. Echos of the Rogallo wing can be seen in SpaceX’s work to safely return rocket farings on a parafoil for reuse.

Contributions by North Carolina State engineer Samuel Beddingfield and UNC Geologist Joel S. Watkins are also outlined through artifacts on loan from their families. It is easy to overlook the small grey box in the back corner of the exhibit provided by Raleigh-based Exide which helped power Apollo. Their missile and electronics division provided batteries that stored power generated by fuel cells and drove pyrotechnic charges to separate the command and service modules and deploy parachutes. You’ll see A-B Emblem Company’s creations throughout the exhibit. The Buncombe County-based company (named for founder E. Henry Conrad’s children Annerose and Bernhard) has been the sole supplier of mission patches for NASA since 1969 with the launch of Apollo II.

Don’t miss the original “meatball” logo autographed by Mercury 7 astronauts Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper, Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter. Other artifacts on display include the capsule used by “astrochimp” Ham in his 1961 flight. Ham lived out his final years at the North Carolina Zoo in the early 1980s.

Visitors can also see Apollo 16 mission commander John Young’s chronograph, worn on the Moon. Watches were used not just for telling time but also as a stopwatch for timing activities in their heavily planned schedules during EVAs (extravehicular activities). You can also hear from the former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Gerry Griffin in a live streaming event Friday from 10:15 - 11:15 a.m.