April 12 marks an important anniversary for aeronautics: it’s the date that Yuri Gagarin became the first human ever launched into space in 1961.
But this year, the anniversary bears local significance, too, as the 90th anniversary of the Moffett Federal Airfield being established.
The airfield’s extensive history – starting in the 1930s as a base for the Navy airship USS Macon, to eventually being turned over to NASA Ames in the '90s – is on display at the Moffett Field Historical Society and Museum. The museum’s impressive collection of artifacts and exhibits are located in a building once used as a recreation room for the Navy in the 1980s, a stone’s throw away from Hangar One.
But beginning this month, the Moffett Field Museum is entering a new era. The museum’s all-volunteer staff have been hard at work for the past six months preparing a series of new, family-friendly exhibits in honor of April’s numerous aeronautical milestones, with a mission to put the museum back on the map.
“For us, it’s kicking us off to a new level,” said Al Margolis, director of operations at the museum.
Starting April 12, the museum began displaying new artifacts on loan from NASA Ames, most notably a moon rock retrieved from the Apollo 15 Mission in 1971. The outer space relic, which will be on display only until April 24, is of such importance to NASA that it must be guarded by a volunteer at all times and stowed away in a safe every night.
“I am the only one allowed to know the combination,” Margolis said.
Though the moon rock will only be at the museum for the next couple weeks, the museum’s permanent NASA Ames displays are here to stay, including a Harrier Jump Jet cockpit, three NASA research aircraft displayed in the museum’s Air Park, and rare models of g-force simulators used to prepare astronauts for space flight. The museum is additionally hosting a series of interactive STEM exhibits and events, including a drone flying station that Margolis said has been a big hit so far with young museum-goers.
Moffett Field’s rich history – “from Navy to NASA,” as the museum dubs it – is also on permanent display, which visitors can learn more about by scheduling a tour from a volunteer docent. When Moffett Field Historical Society President Tom Spink gives his tour, it comes with a touch of lived experience.
“I arrived here in 1970 as a 25-year-old kid from Kansas,” said Spink, who served nine years of active duty in the Navy and 21 years in the reserves, experiencing the height of Moffett’s military days first hand. “Basically, I’ve spent my whole adult life here.”
Margolis and Spink said their vision for the museum is to strike the right balance between honoring the history of Moffett Field, while showcasing contemporary STEM innovation.
“If you’re here on a Saturday, it’s always families coming in. And there’s interest in our traditional displays, but it’s also a little bit foreign to them,” Margolis said. “In our lease with NASA, we’re cited as a STEM training partner of theirs. So to me, I want to push that. I want us to be known as the STEM place.”
The Moffett Field Museum is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Since it's located on a federal airfield, visitors are required to present identification at the gate. The Museum can be found on Severyns Avenue in Mountain View, building 126.