It’s counter-intuitive, really. Why would human beings, possessed of thousands of years of evolutionarily-honed survival instinct, willingly step out of safe vehicles into the unforgiving vacuum of space, while dangling over the Earth a couple hundred miles below and speeding along at 17,500 miles per hour?
Perhaps it’s because they can.
What’s more, they have—more than 200 times since Ed White took the first American spacewalk in 1965 (which proved to be so much fun that he had to be coaxed back into the Gemini 4 capsule by commander Jim McDivitt). A new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, “Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity,” gives visitors a good look at the spacewalking experience using breathtaking photography, original artwork and rare artifacts.
Among the objects on display are Neil Armstrong’s Plantronics “Snoopy” communications cap and headset used on the historic Apollo 11 moon mission in July 1969. It was with this device that he spoke the first words uttered from the surface of another world. Beside it is the Lunar Module Data Acquisition Camera, which was mounted to the window of the Eagle to film the moon landing.
More contemporary artifacts include items used on the space shuttle and the International Space Station such as a Retainer Installation Bit Caddy and a Fastener Extension Tool, both of which were used to repair the Hubble Telescope.
In addition to the physical exhibit, the Museum has also launched a richly detailed online exhibition for those unable to make it to Washington, D.C. The website shows the items on display and has additional information on how they were used and preserved. There also is a dedicated Tumblr page where people can submit their own artistic visions of human space flight.
The exhibit will be open until June 8, 2015.