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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Telling NASA's Story Through Models And Exhibits

Credit: WAAY ABC Huntsville, AL
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Telling NASA's Story Through Models And Exhibits
Telling NASA's Story Through Models And Exhibits

Dan Shaffer leaves the studio to speak with the exhibit and model makers of Marshall Space Flight Center and how they're still telling the story of NASA in a unique, hands-on way.

Next week we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the apollo 11 moon mission.

At first - it was just ideas, drawings and calculations on paper.

The problem was - exciting the public and convincing congress to spend billions of dollars on hardware they couldn't see.

So the space agency commissioned a handful of talented artists and technicians to turn those ideas into something real.

And - the exhibit and model makers of marshall space flight center are still telling the story of nasa in a very unique, hands-on way.

Inside this building on redstone aresnal is a santa's workshop of sorts that few people have ever seen.

Oh millions have seen what they make here at the exhibit and model shop.

But few have seen how this creative crew shrinks a nearly 4- hundred-foot rocket into a desktop display or discovered why what they do here is so important to nasa's mission.

"we're a visual society.

So having a model to demonstrate all of these different designs really ignites the imagination of the person you're talking to."

Manager of exhibits and artifacts todd cannon says this 11-member team of model makers, graphic designers and technicians can create anything from delicate mural-size wall- coverings to sturdy hands-on exhibits and scale models.

"this is a great way for people to understand when we're talking about a rocket that's going to go to the moon what does that look like?"

Inspiration is their stock in trade firing up the next generation by creating traveling exhibits, museum displays, artwork, and models many, many models.

"the eye wants to go to all the details and the excitement begins to build."

Trevor bennett's been building models professionally here for three years.

He worked on this 1-50 scale model of the s- l-s.

The detial is incredible - much of it still done by hand.

"as a modeler, we try to aim for accuracy that engineers notice."

And they nail it.

Or glue it.

Or 3-d print it... you get the feeling a lot of them would do this job for free.

"i couldn't believe this job existed."

Modeler aaron stanfield is in his eleventh year here.

Building models was a hobby until he heard about this place.

"i couldn't believe it.

Somebody paid somebody to build models for nasa.

So i had to have the job."

He's working on this scale model of the engine test stand at stennis space center in mississippi.

After visiting the site, he uploaded photos and blueprints which he's using to recreate the structure in plywood and plastic.

And building it to last.

"some of these models have been out here fifty years.

And i hope my models are out here fifty years.

We'll see.

Shari white manages this team.

She describes their mission in just a few words.

"we help tell the story of nasa."

Designers and technicians can take a simple sketch transfer it to a computer and create a hand-built exhibit.

"we're the actual hands-on.

You know, i can talk to you all day long and say 'i build rockets.

And i built this and i did that.'

But until you see it, you don't know that that's what's actually going on."

Design artist rob williams says it's rewarding work, showing people what nasa is doing.

"from paper, to computer screen to in a lobby or in a school, or even in a museum, they get to see our work."

In addition to museums, their work is on display at trade shows, in office building lobbys, presidential boardrooms, and executive offices.

"from here up.

This is the block one..."

Earlier this year, space flight center director jody singer used a model in her office to show me how the s-l-s works.

Wernher von braun was especially fond of these intricate reproductions!

"he had in his office at marshall you can even see in some of these pictures there were always models of rockets behind his desk."

Von braun's daughter, margrit, remembers her father's office crammed with them.

"and one of them i think they actually had a cutaway in the ceiling to show the saturn v because it was too tall to fit in the regular room."

Von braun believed models helped engage the public in the space program and made sure he had plenty of them.

"dr. von braun was one of the ones who actually helped focus on getting the model shop started here."

The processes may have changed... liquid pvc 3-d printers, and computer-aided routers now work alongside old- school lathes and milling machines... but the mission of this team remains the same.

"we show them what the agency is doing, where it's going, what we're going to do, what we're doing now.

And i think that's very important."

Some of the new processes they're using out there specialized software and 3-d printing are actually laying the groundwork for techniques that could one day be used to make tools and replacement parts aboard remote space stations on the moon

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