HOUSTON — Space Center Houston is now a member of the Smithsonian's crew.
Space Center Houston, which serves as the official visitor center for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Texas, is officially the first museum in Houston to be named a Smithsonian Affiliate. The new status grants the center access to the national archive of more than 138 million artifacts, as well as entree to more than 50 traveling exhibitions developed by the Smithsonian Institution.
"We're already the curators of some of the most priceless artifacts from the space program; this really highlights that fact," Richard Allen, president and CEO of Space Center Houston, told collectSPACE.com "An association with the Smithsonian is really special for us because they are such a well-known, highly-regarded institution and our ability to be affiliated with them is just fantastic." [Take a photo tour of NASA's Johnson Space Center (Gallery)]
Since its opening in October 1992, Space Center Houston has been home to a number of Smithsonian-owned space artifacts, including the Mercury capsule "Faith 7" flown by original astronaut Gordon Cooper, the Gemini 5 spacecraft and Apollo 17 command module "America." Until recently though, those artifacts were on loan through an agreement between the Johnson Space Center and the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Though unrelated to its new status, Space Center Houston recently completed the paperwork to take control of those existing loans. Now, as a Smithsonian Affiliate, the center will have access to borrow more artifacts from the national collection.
"It opens a treasure trove of connections to find artifacts and to work collaboratively on exhibits," Allen said.
The Smithsonian's Affiliates program, established in 1996, includes almost 200 members in 40 states, Puerto Rico and Panama. Other space museums in affiliation with the Smithsonian include the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo, and the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
"We are delighted to launch our first Houston affiliate partnership with Space Center Houston, an organization that has done so much to honor and preserve the history of spaceflight," Harold Closter, the director of Smithsonian Affiliations, said in a statement on Wednesday (Oct. 8). "This new partnership builds on a solid foundation of prior collaboration, artifact loans and scholarly exchange and will address ways we can work together to inspire a new generation to dream, explore, and further the boundaries of knowledge."
Space Center Houston officials expect the new national recognition and exposure generated by its Affiliate status will increase its annual visits, boosting the center's current $45 million annual impact on the greater Houston area. In addition, the center said, Houstonians can look forward to Smithsonian exhibitions and programs.
"Our mission has always been to educate all generations about the wonders of space and the importance it serves within everyday life," Allen said. "We have brought that to the forefront of the center because we think that it is very important for what we do."
To that end, Space Center Houston launched Wednesday (Oct. 9) its latest visiting exhibition, "The Next Giant Leap: Beyond Planet Earth," presented by the City of Webster, Texas. The exhibition explores how humanity will take its first steps toward living in deep space, independent of the Earth.
"Next Giant Leap" is the first exhibition in Space Center Houston's 2014-2015 season of exhibits and educational programs aligned with NASA's exploration initiatives.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.