Travel Tools from The Unofficial Guide™ Team  -  See Our Books Here!
  • Background Image

    114: Space Race

Space Race (Gallery 114)

The Space Race gallery is an open, multi-story exhibit area, similar to the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, but dedicated to rockets, missiles, test vehicles, and spacecraft developed primarily by the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Start your tour of this huge area at the front middle of the room, with the display of military missiles. Then turn right and begin a counter-clockwise tour of the room beginning at Race to the Moon. Save your walk through Skylab for when you’re on the second floor.

The Space Race between the U.S. and the Soviets began before the end of World War II. During the war, Germany had built the V-2 missile, on display here, to attack Britain. Each of the 5,000 V-2’s made were a technical marvel, able to lift a 2,200-pound warhead more than 200 miles, and reach speeds of almost 3,600 m.p.h. For comparison, the U.S.’ WAC Corporal, also on display here, could lift 20 pounds for 20 miles in 1944.

The engineers who built the V-2, including Werner von Braun, were highly recruited by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. when Germany surrendered. Von Braun and most of his team went to the U.S., where they got the U.S. space program off the ground (see what we did there?) using captured German V-2’s. A postwar V-2 rocket was the first man-made object to reach space.

Next, head to your right and the Sputnik 1 display, which is the beginning of the Space Race display cases. Sputnik 1, launched by the Soviet Union in late 1957, was the first manmade satellite to orbit the Earth. While it was a huge scientific achievement for the U.S.S.R., it also clearly showed the U.S. government that the Soviets had rockets able to deliver warheads to the U.S. mainland, when the U.S. had no corresponding capability. The small piece of Sputnik 1 on display here is the only surviving part of the satellite.

Almost the entire right side of this gallery is dedicated to artifacts, models, and memorabilia from the 1960’s race to the moon, which ended when the U.S. landed first, in July 1969.

With the race over, the U.S. and Soviets began working on long-range scientific and military projects in space. In 1975, the two countries each launched a spacecraft that would dock together in space; the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project capsules shown in the back of this gallery are the test and training craft used in that project. Other Soviet hardware here are the TKS Almaz Manned Spacecraft, which flew in 1983; and the Soyuz TM-10 landing module, which flew in 1990.

On display above the middle of the room is an American M2 Lifting Body aircraft. The M2’s are airplanes without wings - the shape of the body produces the lift needed to fly – and these research vehicles helped the development of the Space Shuttle. Here’s a cool fact for anyone old enough to remember: this Smithsonian’s plane, the M2-F3, is the one you see crashing in the Six Million Dollar Man TV show title sequence. The plane was rebuilt and flew again before being donated to the Smithsonian. See here for the video. (Like Steve Austin, the real pilot, Bruce Peterson, survived. The Smithsonian claimed “no knowledge” as to whether Mr. Peterson was made bionic, but we all know the truth.)

On the right side of the room is a test version of the Hubble Space Telescope. This mockup was used to train the astronauts who repaired the Hubble in 1993. The Hubble continues to send back valuable scientific data today.

Other artifacts on display in Space Race include: a V-1 Cruise Missile, the world’s first cruise missile; an Aerobee 150 rocket, the successor to the WAC Corporal; A Viking rocket, one of the U.S.’ postwar designs based on the V-2; a Jupiter-C rocket, which launched America’s first satellite in 1958; a Vanguard rocket, which had a terrible failure rate as a satellite launcher; a Scout-D rocket, which launched other satellites in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s; the guidance system to a Minuteman III missile; and a U.S. Navy Tomahawk cruise missile.

To show how much missile (and warhead) technology developed after World War II, consider that the V-1 could carry just under a ton of explosives about 160 miles, while the Tomahawk can deliver the nuclear warhead equivalent of 10 million tons of explosives more than 1,500 miles.

Other Lands at Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Top