The Museum of Natural History has spent the last 18 months collecting artifacts ranging from space garbage to space suits for the new temporary exhibition “Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration.” The exhibition, which opens to the public on November 19th, aims to illustrate the past, present and future of space exploration.
The show was initiated by the museum curator and AMNH’s exhibition department, with help from the museum’s education department. All teams involved had a say in what was included in the display, and other museums, scientists, companies and collectors participated as well.
“The objects from the space program are some of the most exciting objects we’ve got” said Martin Schwabacher, one of the exhibition writers. “We have real space food and real space garbage and a prototype spacesuit from MIT. At the last minute we got a Mars meteorite.”
Preserving the Artifacts
Transporting the objects was no simple process. Experts are required to inspect every item that arrives, and to document its condition, as well as determine the best way to preserve it.
“I have an understanding of the material science, how things are potentially going to degrade, how they’re going to be affected by various environments, and that’s what I bring to the table” explained Elizabeth Nunan, the conservator of the space show. “There’s a high dork factor” she joked.
Some objects are more likely to be damaged than others.
“Meteorites, for example, tend to be less susceptible to environmental risks, except if they are iron-containing meteorites, then they are susceptible to relative humidity and rusting” Nunan said.
She added that objects have certain “tells” that help her determine their weaknesses. For example, the bolt used by NASA to hold down the space shuttle was heavier than she expected.
“When you pick up an object like this and it’s heavier than you expect, that generally means there’s some lead content, because lead is a heavy metal, and here you see rust, so that tells me there’s some iron content. So this is part of my assessment process: it’s really telling me what it needs to stay in good condition.”
What We’re Trying to Convey…
The exhibition is unique in its diverse collection, its historic style and overall experience.
“The historical objects really do resonate with you after you see them for real” Eliza McCarthy, the lead exhibition writer, said.
“Our show is really a chance to convey what actually is happening, all the unmanned missions that I feel like don’t get their proper due” she added. “It was really fun to learn about, and there is so much more going on than I think people are aware of if you only read the popular press. People are devoting their lives to trying to send spacecraft to space, and it’s really amazing. That’s what we’re trying to convey.”