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Soaring Back in Time

The Tulsa Air and Space Museum captures the achievements and products of the pilots, designers, and engineers who completed those first flights, then set their sights on space.

Article
Rob Harmon
Photos
Marc Rains
Posted
June 28, 2019

It is entirely possible that you’re one of the few who has never visited the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (TASM) and Planetarium. If that’s you, don’t let yourself think for a minute that it’s just a big hangar full of old plane exhibits with plaques containing long paragraphs straight out of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

It’s just the opposite.

Prepare to be inspired, while learning something you’ve never thought of before, through high-tech and virtual-reality experiences found right here in Tulsa. Whether you’re a casual learner, an avid museum-goer, or you consider yourself an aviation or space exploration buff, there’s always something fun to do and new to see at this museum.

Just ask Alex London, the curator of the expansive, out-of-this-world experience. “We have a great planetarium program that we’ve revitalized in the past few years,” says London. “Having a partnership with NASA, they were able to give us some fantastic equipment.”

Whether you’re a casual learner, an avid museum-goer, or you consider yourself an aviation or space exploration buff, there’s always something fun to do and new to see at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. (Photo: Marc Rains)
Whether you’re a casual learner, an avid museum-goer, or you consider yourself an aviation or space exploration buff, there’s always something fun to do and new to see at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. (Photo: Marc Rains)

The planetarium’s educational program, under London’s watch, has been revitalized in the past few years. Being one of only two commercial planetariums in Tulsa, the James E. Bertlesmeyer Planetarium provides a large assortment of local stargazing techniques, including a surprising view of the city’s skyline. Also, using the equipment and a collection of videos and programs provided by NASA, the planetarium presents a virtual reality way of exploring the stars that no other planetarium in the state of Oklahoma can provide. Visitors can see the universe around us in stunning high-definition visuals through a state-of-the-art dome theater, learning about our magnificent solar system and the galaxies beyond.

The films shown in the theater are breathtaking. Journey to the black hole in the center of our very own universe in a production narrated by Liam Neeson. See for yourself what it would be like to step on the lunar surface in another film production commemorating the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon (created by TASM and Jenks High School Planetarium). Visit the stars once more in yet another of the planetarium’s top-notch films, narrated by Star Wars actor, Mark Hamill, in which you journey to the furthest reaches of the galaxy and learn how the awesome power of a star is formed. In every film the planetarium offers, prepare to enrich your STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) knowledge exponentially.

During your visit to the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, you will enjoy a number of historical exhibits that chronicle the people and planes that mark Oklahoma’s rich aerospace heritage, and your family will love interacting with a number of hands-on exhibits. (Photo: Marc Rains)
During your visit to the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, you will enjoy a number of historical exhibits that chronicle the people and planes that mark Oklahoma’s rich aerospace heritage, and your family will love interacting with a number of hands-on exhibits. (Photo: Marc Rains)

The other very cool thing that London is exceptionally proud of at TASM is the Apollo 50 exhibit. Available for the first time this July, in concert with many other 50-year anniversary celebrations across the world, the exhibit commemorates the successful missions to land a person on the moon that started in 1969.

“We have a lot of really great content for our Apollo Mission exhibition,” says London. “We have the command module [a gold-colored module about the size of a Jeep that the astronauts sat in during some of the later missions].”      

The new exhibit chronicles the people and science behind one of our country’s finest victories, landing a person on the moon, and believe it or not, Oklahoma was a pretty big part of the whole thing. Oklahoma’s own William “Bill” Pogue from Okemah, Oklahoma, was raised in the Tulsa area and dreamed of exploring the stars as an astronaut. His wishes came true when he was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1966. Pogue provided integral support for the crews of several Apollo Missions. And in 1973, he earned the right to be launched into space as part of the third manned Skylab mission, making him a huge part of Oklahoma’s rich aerospace heritage. An extensive collection of his items are on display.

Additionally, a virtual-reality experience is arriving this month that features the real-life WWII B-24 bomber called the Tulsamercian. It was one of 952 B-24 bombers made. It was the very last one to roll off an assembly line here in Tulsa, which is why it was given its name. The Tulsamerican was shot down in Europe and laid to rest in the ocean. In early 2000, amateur divers discovered the plane, and after a massive effort to extract the remains of the men who went down with it, the aircraft is being brought back to the U.S.

“It’s been a bit of a political power struggle to get the plane back,” says London, “but over the last six months we’ve made enough progress where we’ll be getting it back.” The museum’s Tulsamerican program allows visitors to experience what it was like to lead a squad of six bombers, deep into German territory, bombing refineries, and other essential sites while fighting off enemy fighters.

LOCATOR
Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium
3624 N. 74th E. Ave. | Tulsa
918-834-9900
tulsamuseum.org
Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

July 2019 Cover