Space Station Museum deviates from traditional route with interactive, free exhibits By Vincent Leo

When picturing a museum in the Bay Area, one tends to visualize an expansive and expensive gallery filled with compositions by critically acclaimed artists. They are generally housed in San Francisco where one needs to drive across the bridge and tend to the commodities of an astronomical admission fee, parking and lunch. The Space Station Museum, located in Novato, diverges from this typical path by providing visitors with a lens into space exploration through interactive exhibits, artifacts, models and photographs, all free of cost.

Tucked into the corner of the Pacheco Plaza shopping center, the museum utilizes two small rooms of retail space to display its artifacts. Even before I entered the main room, I could already sense the museum’s cozy and jovial vibe. A life-size astronaut stands on a pedestal outside, welcoming visitors into the exhibit. Mounted on the windows, a couple of stars shine brightly next to a poster of an astronaut waving in outer space.

Walking through the door, volunteer workers greeted me with friendly expressions and readily offered me a tour of the museum. Various hands-on activities were spread out in the exhibit, which ranged from a touchable control panel to weights that demonstrated how objects are much lighter on the moon. Smaller artifacts filled multiple shelves and model rockets were set on tables. Covering the walls, signed paintings and photographs filled every available space while plastic models dangled from the ceiling.

Although many of the interactive artifacts intrigued me, the small collection located in the center of the main room captivated me the most. Unlike the majority of museums where the artifacts are encased in glass barriers, this exhibit encourages visitors to touch and interact with nearly all of the items, allowing me to unleash my inner child. From adjusting the murky, tinted sun visor on an Apollo space suit helmet to rubbing my fingers through the timeworn fabric of gloves worn by a Soviet cosmonaut, I was astounded by every small detail each item possessed.

Equally fascinating, a life-sized replica of the Mercury Capsule was located in the corner of the second room. At first glance, I thought that the vessel was a smaller part of a larger rocket or used only for simulations, due to its extremely condensed size. However, a museum volunteer informed me that astronaut John Glenn had fit inside the real capsule, with the help of a few other astronauts. The fact that one person traveled to space and back in the tiny, cramped spacecraft is astonishing and puts the whole space program into perspective—demonstrating where the U.S. started with the program and how much progress has been made.

Additionally, the historical and educational value of the museum exceeded all my expectations. Whether it be a brand new Russian-made spacesuit worn by all astronauts who journey to the International Space Station or a 6,000-year-old meteorite, every item was full of historical significance. The fact that the public is able to access the resources in this museum for free truly surprises me, and the difference in this unique model clearly shows. Being able to go to this museum and interact with an artifact that precedes generations of our ancestors definitely promotes a valuable and worthwhile experience.

Space Station Museum co-founder and president Ken Winans has pledged to help educate the younger generation about the history of space exploration. In regards to the complimentary admission, he has committed to sharing his personal collection of U.S., Russian and Soviet artifacts with the public.

“I’m a big believer in giving back to the community. If we all did that, if we all gave back, our society would be a much better place. And also, space is a positive. Who doesn’t like space?” Winans said.

Winans said using his collection for a greater cause has been the most rewarding aspect in his creation of the museum.

“Collecting is a lot of fun, but I’ve had a lot more fun sharing the collection with the public and young people and [people] of all different backgrounds,” Winans said.

Additionally, Winans said he feels strongly about developing youth volunteers and believes that they are an integral part of society and the museum team. Redwood senior and Space Station Museum volunteer Payton Glenn recently started working at the museum and has been able to express and expand his passion.

“To me, the museum is a place where I can use all this knowledge that I have self-acquired about space exploration and space programs. I have always been passionate about it, interested in it—now I have a place where I can share what I know and then through the questions I get asked, and through discussions with guests, I learn things myself,” Glenn said.

The Space Station Museum is free to the public and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Taking a couple hours out of your weekend to visit this exceptional resource, containing an abundance of stimulating artifacts and memorabilia, is definitely an out of this world experience.


Photos by Vincent Leo

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