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by Sarah-Beth White

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For decades, their silvery spires defined the classic landscape of Queens. And now they’re back — and better than ever! The towering Titan and Atlas rockets located at the New York Hall of Science (NYHS) in Flushing Meadows Park have been restored to their former glory following an ambitious four-year renovation project that includes an interactive rocket park. “These rockets are real — not replicas,” says Alan Friedman, NYHS director. “They are authentic pieces of one of America’s greatest adventures — space exploration.” Originally displayed at the 1964-65 World’s Fair on its two-acre United States Space Park, the rockets represented America’s future and its fervent quest for scientific knowledge. At the conclusion of the fair, the rockets were donated by NASA to the New York Hall of Science. The Titan’s history stretches back to the initial testing phase of the United States space program. Poised as though ready for launch at Cape Kennedy, it features a fiberglass Gemini capsule. The Atlas, which stands at 102 feet, houses an authentic Mercury capsule — the same model used for the historic space orbit of John Glenn in 1963. Years of weathering left the rockets corroded and in need of repair. Both have undergone an extensive restoration by Paul Thomarios, a renowned preservationist, whose expertise can also be viewed at the NASA Kennedy Space Center and the Smithsonian Institute. New steel support structures will enable the rockets to remain upright without guide wires, and the freshly painted glossy exterior will preserve these important artifacts for future generations. Standing at the base and looking up, viewers are often surprised at the size of the rockets. “They are both much bigger and much smaller than you might imagine,” says Friedman. Although they stand over 100 feet tall, the actual capsule for the astronaut is a cramped, uncomfortable space; an astronaut can barely extend his arms. The rockets themselves are smaller than an ocean liner or a 747, but they can move whole lot faster and travel a whole lot further, explains Friedman, saying: “The exhibit helps you realize the audacity of the astronaut who sat on top of this edifice and allowed himself to get launched into the unknown void of space.” For a visceral appreciation of this amazing feat, the Rocket Park includes an interactive Mercury climb-in capsule, a water rocket launch, and a full-size Saturn engine. The activities are intended to appeal to a wide age group, from the pre-K set to more senior enthusiasts. New educational programs are linked to the rockets, including a workshop where participants build and launch their own rockets. Weather permitting, each day will include at least one outdoor rocket launch. “Philosophically, we hope to create a demonstration that’s not only interactive and interesting, but teaches good science about rocketry,” says Preeti Gupta, NYHS director of education. “The rockets not only look wonderful, but offer families the opportunity to understand what an exciting adventure space travel was and continues to be,” says Friedman. “They represent an achievement that we can be truly proud of.”

Info: Where: The New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th Street, Corona When: Fall/winter hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 9:30am-2pm; Friday, 9:30am-5pm; Saturday-Sunday, noon-5pm. Free hours: Friday 2-5pm, September 1-June 30. How much: Adults, $9; children 5-17 or with college ID, $6; pre-schoolers ages 2-4, $2.50; seniors, $6 For more info: (718) 699-0005; www.nyscience.org

 


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