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Oklahoma Astronaut Reunited with Spacecraft Five Decades after Historic Flight

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

A significant event in the world of spaceflight relics is taking place this July that is unprecedented between two Smithsonian Affiliate Institutions. The flown Gemini VI spacecraft has been moved from the Oklahoma History Center (OHC) in Oklahoma City to the Stafford Air and Space Museum (SASM) in Weatherford, OK for long-term display.

To acquire a flown spacecraft is a rare and very special opportunity given to only a select few institutions in the entire world. Most spacecraft are seldom relocated when acquired by a specific facility, but through collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution and three Smithsonian affiliates – OHC, SASM, and the Kansas Cosmosphere, the historic move of the flown Gemini VI spacecraft has been accomplished.

“For the Stafford Museum to receive the actual flown Gemini 6 spacecraft for display from the Smithsonian takes the museum to a whole new level in its development!  There are only 38 flown American manned spacecraft that have survived, and Gemini 6 is one of THE most historic as it performed the first rendezvous in space – one of space exploration’s greatest milestones!  To now have that spacecraft sitting in the museum named for the pilot of Gemini 6 makes this event extra special!” exclaimed SASM Executive Director, Max Ary.

View of Gemini VII spacecraft from Gemini VI-A spacecraft during the first space rendezvous.

This collaboration project began almost five years ago, and initially appeared daunting and impossible from many standpoints, specifically for the fact that flown spacecraft are seldom moved from their designated facilities. State Representative, Harold Wright, who resides in Stafford’s hometown of Weatherford, Oklahoma, was a key supporter of the move from the very beginning. Ultimately, it was a mutual understanding between all parties that Stafford’s flown spacecraft should be displayed respectfully and rightfully in his namesake museum located in his hometown of Weatherford, OK.

The Stafford Air and Space Museum was created to not only maintain the extraordinary legacy of Tom Stafford, but to inspire the future generations of youth to dream, and follow those dreams to explore. General Stafford’s story is told through many of the artifacts housed in the museum, and the Gemini VI exhibit further exemplifies his accomplishments as an astronaut.

Tom Stafford on Gemini 6 made his reputation. He became known as an engineering astronaut and a thinking astronaut because he understood the orbital mechanics very clearly and that was I think where he got the reputation he has today as being an outstanding astronaut, outstanding manager, and an outstanding thinker. So I think the Gemini program sort of made Tom Stafford,” explained Chris Kraft, former JSC Flight Director.