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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
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Tampa History Center’s spacesuit exhibit is out of this world


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Spacesuits have become iconic symbols thanks to science fiction films and real life NASA space explorations.

Futuristic full-body suits and helmets have been a part of the sci-fi culture as far back as books in the 1800s and silent films at the turn of the century. By the 1940s and ’50s, most of the outer space wear out of Hollywood looked like underwater diving suits.

After man finally walked on the moon in 1969, fictional spacesuits from movies such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Alien,” “Gravity” and the “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” films were inspired by the protective gear used by real astronauts.

The most iconic of all space suits could arguably be the thick, white garb with an American Flag on the arm and an eerie reflective face shield on the helmet — the one worn by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin when they walked on the moon.

The evolution of real space fashion will be on display in the Suited for Space exhibit opening Saturday at the Tampa Center History.

This new traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum takes visitors on a journey through the history of the space program, from the 1960s and the Mercury missions on through the Apollo missions to Skylab.

The story is told through vintage and new photographic images, including X-rays of the inner workings of spacesuits.

“Because the original (suits) are so fragile, the exhibit includes only photographs and reproductions,” says Rodney Kite-Powell, the History Center’s Saunders Foundation Curator of History.

“The images are stunning and impressive, especially the X-rays which reveal the technology inside the suit.” says Kite-Powell. “And we’ve added a White Room suit that was worn by one of the ground crew on the launch pad.”

The White Room is the last stop for astronauts before boarding, and the suit belongs to an Orlando collector.

“The space program has long been a part of Florida history with the Kennedy Space Center being such an important part,” says Kite-Powell. “We are also excited to have astronaut Nicole Stott, who grew up in Clearwater, as a guest speaker on March 12.”

Stott, who is stationed out of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, wore spacesuits on several missions. A graduate of Clearwater High School, St. Petersburg College and the University of Central Florida, Stott served as a flight engineer on International Space Station Expedition 20 and Expedition 21 and was a mission specialist on STS-128.

One of the photographs that Stott took from space was of Florida, and that photograph is on display at the Tampa History Center in another exhibit on Florida maps.

As part of the opening day on Saturday, Bill Ayrey, an expert on spacesuits and their history will be at the Tampa History Center from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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