Historical Museum puts Explorer I, III satellite artifacts on display next week
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum program at Historical Building Thursday

For immediate release April 4, 2008


Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

(DES MOINES) –The State Historical Museum announced today it will display two artifacts from the Explorer I and Explorer III satellites next week to mark the 50th anniversary of America’s entry into the Space Race.

The mock-up space craft of Explorer I and the back-up payload of Explorer III – designed and constructed in 1957-1958 by James Van Allen and his team at the University of Iowa – will be on display next week in conjunction with a program from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“This is a rare chance for the public to see these two artifacts from America’s entry into the Space Race and to enjoy a free, family-friendly program about our solar system, modern-day explorers and the importance of learning more about space,” said Cyndi Pederson, director of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs.

Journey Through the Universe, presented by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services and the State Historical Society of Iowa, will be at 6:15 p.m. Thursday at the State Historical Building, 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines.

Harding Middle School students will kick off the program with demonstrations on topics such as how to cook up a comet, a voyage through the solar system and how to measure the energy produced by the sun.

Dr. Jeff Goldstein of the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education will follow up with his “Fantastic Science Show,” which he presents at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“Dr. G” offers a magical window into the nature of science and the lives of modern-day explorers, with special emphasis on what scientists know about the universe and how they came to know it.

It is a personal story about how researchers ask questions of the world, empower themselves to create a pathway to an answer, and hopefully bear witness to something new to the human race.

The entire evening is designed to entertain the whole family with examples of discovery, exploration and the thrill of lifelong learning. The night’s activities are also the first step in locating a scale model sculpture of Earth’s solar system on the grounds of the Iowa State Capitol.

Earth’s solar system caught America’s attention in earnest in 1957 when the Soviet Union took mankind’s first step into space. The Soviet Union launched the first orbiting satellite – Sputnik I – into space in October 1957 and quickly followed in November 1957 with Sputnik II, which carried the dog, Laika, into orbit.

Americans turned to Iowa and Van Allen for leadership in responding to the Soviet Union’s great strides in science and space exploration.

Van Allen and his team constructed the Explorer satellites I, II and III – known as the “Iowa payloads.” Their delicate, hand-tooled instruments were designed to study cosmic radiation and micro-meteorite impacts.

On January 31, 1958, Explorer I was lifted into orbit and America entered the Space Race. Explorer II failed to launch on March 5, and Explorer III’s successful launch sent another Iowa payload into space on March 26, 1958. 

Van Allen and the University of Iowa are associated with 24 unmanned space explorations from the early Explorer I to the discovery of the radiation belts of Saturn.

The Historical Museum’s Explorer I and Explorer III artifacts will be on display for one week only – Monday through Friday, April 7-11, 2008 – due to the extremely fragile condition of original photographs that accompany them. Prolonged exposure to light and fluctuations in temperature and humidity could put the original photographs at risk for further deterioration.

The State Historical Building is at 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines’ Historic East Village. Hours are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and Noon-4:30 p.m. Sunday. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa’s historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa’s past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa’s historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.

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