WASHINGTON - "Space Race," a new National Air and Space Museum exhibition, displays the U.S.-Soviet relationship in space from their competition in the 1950s and 1960s to their cooperation in the 1970s.
It had its origin in a 1993 auction at which an anonymous American paid $4 million for an array of Soviet artifacts.
The anonymous American turned out to be Dallas billionaire Ross Perot, and many of the items he bought are included in the exhibition in the museum's soaring Space Hall.
"It's an exciting day," Perot said at last week's preview. "This exhibition is a great tribute to the human spirit, and to creativity and ingenuity."
The Perot Foundation is the major financial underwriter.
His interest in space, he told reporters, stems from the childhood fascination of his son, Ross Jr., who built and launched many wooden rockets.
"He was absolutely fascinated," Perot said. "My job was to recover them from the roof of the house."
He said he bought the Soviet space material after noticing it in a Sotheby's catalog. "My interest was to preserve it in one place so it could one day be returned to Russia," he said. Besides space suits and other items used by Soviet cosmonauts, he purchased their diaries and logs.
The exhibition brings the space race full circle from the competition between the two superpowers in the days when each vied to be first in space, to the cooperation that began with the historic 1975 docking of the U.S. Apollo and the Soviet Soyuz.
It features side-by-side displays of U.S. and Soviet space suits and rocket launchers that demonstrate the parallel space efforts in the two countries, including their secret reconnaissance satellites.
One case, for example, shows space suits worn by Yuri Gagarin, the first human to orbit the earth, and John Glenn, the first American to do so.
Another case features the architects of the two programs, German-born Werner von Braun and Soviet scientist Sergei Korolev, and their slide rules (both made in Germany).
The exhibition makes clear that, in most early ventures such as Gagarin's 1961 flight, the Soviets led the space race until the United States reached the moon in 1969.
It includes such smaller precursors of the giant modern space vehicles as the German V-1 and V-2 rockets of World War II, plus a new model of the Hubble space telescope. Some items have been on display before, but many are new, officials said.
Retired U.S. Gen. Thomas Stafford and Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov, the pilots of the Apollo and Soyuz crafts, were on hand at last week's press preview and a gala black-tie reception. They were joined by many fellow space pioneers from both countries, including Glenn, soon to retire after four terms as a Democratic senator from Ohio.
If you go
"Space Race" is a permanent exhibition at the Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Admission is free.
Call (202) 357-2700.
Pub Date: 5/18/97