What is the Personal Space exhibit?
The exhibit highlights some of the non-mission-related objects that astronauts bring to space. These objects usually have a deeply personal meaning to each individual. The inclusion of these objects is usually not public knowledge. By sharing these objects and their related stories, the public will realize that the men and women who travel up to work and explore space are humans just like the rest of us.
What was the inspiration behind this exhibit?
A few years ago, the Intrepid Museum dedicated the space shuttle orbiter Enterprise to all the astronauts who were lost to accidents in the endeavor of space exploration. These included the crews of Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia. Many family members from these crews attended the event. We met the wife of Col. Ilan Ramon, Israeli Air Force pilot and the first astronaut from Israel who was lost on the disastrous mission of Columbia in February 2003. She related the story of a miniature Torah he carried along on the flight.
A rabbi while incarcerated in a concentration camp during WWII made this Torah so small that it could be concealed from the Nazi guards. It was used in a bar mitzvah ceremony of a young boy in the camp, and that young boy survived and eventually became a scientist in Israel. Col. Ramon worked closely with this scientist prior to his space mission. The scientist asked Col. Ramon to take the miniature Torah on his flight as a symbol of faith and hope for their nation. This very moving story made us wonder what other meaningful objects have traveled to space.
Is there some connective tissue that each of the items in the exhibit share?
Only that they are personal in nature to the owner and serve no real official function during the mission. However, they surely reminded the astronauts of home and family and helped to keep them focused on the mission’s goals and getting home.
In your opinion, what item in the exhibit has the most interesting backstory?
They all have a great story and it’s hard to pick just one. As the exhibit developed, the stories came in one by one. Each object and story was the favorite of the day! A child’s artwork wishing her astronaut mom a good journey nearly made me cry. A favorite book, a gift from her husband - Grandfather’s pocket watch - A favorite childhood toy turned inspiration - A favorite musical piece….I could list them all, each one is as unique as the person that brought it along on a journey of a lifetime.