The Story of Apollo exhibit comes to Macon

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The Story of Apollo exhibit is on display at the Macon Museum of Arts and Sciences in the Newberry Hall Science Gallery. Mercer University Alumnus Rob Sumowski loaned about 25 pieces from his personal collection of prints signed by Apollo era astronauts.
“I was sitting in Dr. Walter Shurden’s Christianity 108 class in Knight Hall on a morning January 1986 when a fellow student burst though the door and announced the space shuttle Challenger had just exploded a few minutes before,” said Sumowski, “Dr. Shurden held class anyway, but afterward we all raced to my room- 202 Sherwood- to watch the breaking news on a little 12 inch black and white TV I had there.”
Sumowski is a professor of education at Georgia College and State University. He began collecting autographed space memorabilia in 1996.
“The exhibit at the museum is maybe one tenth of my collection,” said Sumowski.
Sumowski was too young to see the Apollo 11 moon landing on TV, but grew up during the progress of the following missions.
“My whole youth, we wanted to be astronauts,” said Sumowski.
In the early 1990’s many of the Apollo astronauts were just starting to retire. Most of them were writing books about their experiences and many still responded well to the public spotlight.
“These guys were accessible,” said Sumowski, “You can still write to John Glen and get a response.”
Sumowski has met most of the “gentlemen” who walked on the moon. He has also met many of the still living Mercury and Gemini astronauts.
Much of Sumowski’s collection comes from simply sending the retired astronauts large print photos. The astronauts would usually return the prints signed.
Alan Bean of Apollo12, the fourth person to walk on the moon, is an avid painter. In his correspondence with Bean, Sumowski helped Bean locate obscure lunar photos in NASA’s online archive. Bean would use the photos as referenced for his oil painting, valued at $50,000.
They’re engineers, but have a lot of personality,” said Sumowski.
According to Sumowski, the smallest subset of the human species are the 12 men who walked on the moon. He says that even the rarest disease has affected more people.
Unfortunately for collectors like Sumowski, the rarity of astronauts’ autographs is ever increasing. Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin will not sign anything unless paid upwards of $500.
Frustrated by the capitalistic exploits of people selling his autographs as soon as they are signed, the late Neil Armstrong stopped signing memorabilia in 1994.
In 2004, President George W. Bush mandated a return to the moon by 2020 which manifested into the Constellation program. Though President Obama originally supported the program in 2008, he let the program wallow by not approving NASA’s budget.
“[The cancellation] broke my heart. For the first time, we don’t have a manned space program,” said Sumowski, “who would want to be an astronaut when there’s nothing to fly?”
NASA currently spends $22 million a seat to send astronauts to the International Space Station on Russian Soyuz capsules. China is most likely going to be the next country to send a manned mission to the moon.
“I think the Chinese are going to wax our butt in [space exploration], and I hate to say it.”
Currently, NASA is focusing on sending a mission to an asteroid and to Mars. However, missions are not planned until the 2030’s.
“Imagine if we went to the new world and said ‘well that was great’,” said Sumowski, “How can you just stop?”
The Story of Apollo will be on display until September 30.
“I just want other people to know that this was an amazing period in history,” said Sumowski, “I don’t want the next generation to not know about that”

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