July 24, 2021

Oklahoma History Center explores state’s space program contributions

Standing under a giant globe, Dan Provo promises visitors to the Oklahoma History Center that “we’ll share the whole world with you.”

But the exhibition “Launch to Landing: Oklahomans and Space” has the right stuff to transport museumgoers even beyond the stars.

“One of the distinctions that Oklahoma has is that it is the only state in the United States that has had a person in every human spaceflight program from the United States … coupled with the fact that there’s an extraordinary number of scientists and engineers and Mission Control people that have come from Oklahoma,” said Provo, the Oklahoma History Center’s director.

“It always surprises people.”

Oklahoma History Center Director Dan Provo talks about the exhibit "Launch to Landing: Oklahomans and Space" at the History Center Thursday, April 29, 2021, in Oklahoma City.

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A labor of love 10 years in the making, “Launch to Landing” explores the vast influence of Oklahoma on the U.S. space program.

“Literally, we had set up the final elements of it and then the pandemic hit — and everything changed. But even if it changes, you can’t let it stop you. You’ve got to keep going,” Provo said.

A mannequin of astronaut and Weatherford native Lt. Gen. Thomas Stafford is included in the exhibit "Launch to Landing: Oklahomans and Space" at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.

Space pioneers

“Launch to Landing” features a NASA Mission Control console, space shuttle heat shield tiles, a space sleeping bag, astronaut food and “lunar samples,” more commonly known as moon rocks.

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In addition, the exhibit includes flight suits worn by astronauts Fred Haise, the lunar module pilot on the famously failed Apollo 13 mission who attended the University of Oklahoma and served in the Oklahoma Air National Guard; Gordon Cooper, the Shawnee native who was the youngest of the seven original astronauts in Project Mercury, the country’s first human space program; and John Herrington, the Wetumka native and Chickasaw Nation citizen who became the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to fly in space.