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General Thomas P. Stafford, namesake of Weatherford’s Stafford Air & Space Museum, commanded the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975, the first meeting in space between American astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts.
Photo by JOHN JERNIGAN
Named for one of Oklahoma’s most famous space pioneers, Weatherford’s Stafford Air & Space Museum is an out-of-this-world adventure.
By Brooke Adcox
Published November/December 2015
It suits General Thomas P. Stafford that a museum in his honor sits just off Route 66 in a blue metal building attached to the airport in his hometown of Weatherford. Like its namesake, the Stafford Air & Space Museum fits right in to the western Oklahoma landscape. But the 47,000-square-foot institution is filled with a collection as diverse and accomplished as Stafford’s storied career.
“The museum brings back experiences that are so great, like seeing that big Apollo spacecraft,” says the eighty-five-year-old Stafford, who lives in Florida. “I flew one of those 238,000 miles above the earth, and on the return, I set the all-time world speed record at seven miles a second. At that speed, I could go from Weatherford to Oklahoma City in ten seconds. The Highway Patrol would never touch me.”
The museum balances a collection of aerospace artifacts—like a mission control console used with the Gemini and Apollo space flights—with replicas, including a working Wright Flyer and half-size Apollo Lunar Module. The museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate, a partnership that allows it to display pieces like the space suit Stafford wore during the Apollo 10 mission, when he photographed the moon from orbit to prepare for humanity’s first steps there.
“General Stafford’s Apollo 10 space suit is one of our most important artifacts,” says museum director Max Ary. “All the flown suits are owned by the Smithsonian, and the materials are breaking down over the years. We have it in a special case with a controlled environment, and we monitor it carefully.”
The tour begins with a gallery devoted to Stafford that features an actual moon rock, Stafford’s Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and mementos from his upbringing. The flight gallery showcases replicas of historic planes, including a copy of the Spirit of St. Louis.
Next, visitors shuttle through a large gallery housing one of the only remaining V-2 rocket engines in existence and the ten-story Titan II rocket, originally designed to carry a nuclear warhead but repurposed to launch the Gemini spacecraft. The museum also includes interactive exhibits like a jet-training cockpit and a computer lab with flight simulators. Through it all, the Stafford museum captures the pioneering spirit exhibited by its namesake.
“General Stafford’s mother came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon and lived to see her only child fly to the moon,” says Ary. “That’s extraordinary.”
Get There: The Stafford Air & Space Museum, 3000 Logan Road in Weatherford. (580) 772-5871 or staffordmuseum.com.