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Hall of Science launches renovation of space exhibit

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“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, ignition, lift-off.”

The phrase no longer evokes the same sense of excitement it did in the 1960s, when men with “the right stuff” broke free of Earth’s gravity and took a leap perhaps as important to the evolution of humans as first coming down from the trees in Africa.

Nowadays, the Space Shuttle taking off, or even the occupants of the international space station frolicking in zero gravity, has become so routine that it’s hardly broadcast any more.

But maybe an event set for this Friday morning, Aug. 10 at the New York Hall of Science will ignite the old feeling. Staffers will prepare and remove the Mercury and Gemini capsules from the rockets that were displayed in the Space Park of the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Corona Park — and which still stand to the left of the main entrance of the Hall, pointing skyward as if expecting to be launched. The event kicks off a three-year project to restore the Space Park, to be opened in 2004 as Rocket Park.

Visitors on Friday will see the 110-foot Titan II rocket and its Gemini capsule, and the 102-foot Atlas rocket with its Mercury capsule — not replicas, but the actual models that NASA contractors built as back-ups to the rockets and capsules that propelled Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.

The rockets that Shepard, Glenn, and the other early astronauts rode in are now at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean — unlike today’s shuttle, they were one-use vehicles.

The interior mechanisms in the rockets were removed when they were displayed at the World’s Fair because the equipment would have weighed the rocket down, said Dr. Alan Friedman, the Hall’s director. “The rockets were built very thin, to conserve weight,” he said. “Every ounce counted.”

The reason was that it took about a pound of fuel to lift each ounce of payload beyond the pull of gravity. The weight of everything — controls, the astronauts, cameras, film, the rocket itself — had to be taken into consideration.

The rocket was so light, relatively, that it wouldn’t remain upright without guy wires on the launching pad, Friedman said. When the fuel tanks were filled just prior to launch, the added weight anchored the rocket so the wires could be released — but just long enough for the blast to hurl the rocket, capsule, and astronaut upward.

Also on view at Friday’s event will be an artist’s rendition of Rocket Park.

Final preparations are at 10:45 a.m.; the first capsule is to be removed at 11 a.m.

For more information call the Hall at 718-699-0005.

Reach Qguide Editor David Glenn at glenn@timesledger.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.

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