Historians often have focused on Oklahoma's pioneer legacy, from Indian Territory to land runs, early statehood and the development of towns and cities, but Oklahomans also have helped pioneer aviation and the exploration of space.
Starting with Gordon Cooper in 1959, eight astronauts with Oklahoma background have joined crews on significant space missions that have helped the United States make a huge difference in understanding our universe. Scientists and engineers from Oklahoma also have played significant roles.
Now, the Oklahoma Historical Society has expanded its aviation and space exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. In addition, Oklahoma's role in space is celebrated by “Oklahomans and Space,” a new highly visual book by Bill Moore, a former historical society film
“Oklahomans have been involved in all aspects of manned and unmanned space exploration,” said Bob Blackburn, director of the Oklahoma Historical Society. “Exhibit additions focus on early aviation and aviation pioneers with artifacts from Wiley Post, Jerrie Cobb and Jack Ridley as well as personal items and flight artifacts that show Oklahoma's connection to aviation and the space program.”
The expanded exhibit presents an actual Mission Control support console from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Mission Control Center in Houston, said Dan Provo, director of the Oklahoma History Center.
“The exhibit also includes a series of mission manuals, documents and other support materials donated by Jerry Elliott, mission control retro fire control officer,” Provo said.
All this and Bill Moore's new book join the Tom Stafford Museum in Weatherford and the Tulsa Air Space Museum in providing the dramatic story of Oklahoma's aviation and space pioneers.
With brightly colored photos, Moore provides the detailed background and accomplishments of astronauts Cooper of Shawnee, Thomas Stafford of Weatherford, University of Oklahoma graduate Fred Haise, Stuart Roosa of Claremore, Owen Garriott of Enid, William Pogue of Okemah, Shannon Lucid of Bethany and John Herrington of Wetumka.
Cooper, who played football for Shawnee High School, joined the Marines in World War II and transferred to the Air Force in 1949 so he could fly.