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Smithsonian Affiliate Membership

For nearly 20 years the California Science Center (and its predecessor institution, the California Museum of Science and Industry) has received support from various curatorial departments at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. The artifacts which have been entrusted to the Science Center's care include, from the Aeronautics Department, Excalibur III (flown by Captain Charles Blair), and the beautiful 1929 Velie Monocoupe, painstakingly restored by world famous aviator Tony LeVier. Captain Blair’s Excalibur was returned to NASM to become a part of the Smithsonian’s new Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (located at Dulles International Airport) which opened in 2003.

Artifacts entrusted to the Science Center from the Department of Space History include flown spacecraft such as the Apollo-Soyuz Command Module, Gemini 11 and Mercury MR-2 space capsules; a flown Apollo spacesuit and several orbiting astronomical observatories and deep space probes. These priceless artifacts play a key role in helping the Science Center to interpret the science and engineering principles that underlie important accomplishments in aeronautics and space exploration.

The Gemini Capsule we have on loan from the Smithsonian, as it looked when it was recovered from its voyage in space. Image courtesy of NASA.

This longstanding relationship between the Science Center and the Smithsonian has proven beneficial to the National Air and Space Museum as well. A clear priority of the Smithsonian Institution is to make its resources available to a wide range of cultural and educational organizations across the United States so that it becomes a truly national institution. It is in this spirit that the Affiliations Program was created to foster fruitful partnerships with museums and cultural organizations throughout the country.

In recognition of the need to solicit reputable partners for the Affiliations Program, in March 2000 the chairman of the National Air and Space Museum's Space History Department invited the California Science Center to formally apply for the program. In response to this invitation, the Science Center submitted its formal request for the new status and in October 2000 entered a new chapter in its relationship with the Smithsonian Institution by formally becoming a Smithsonian Affiliate.

The Mercury capsule we have on loan from the Smithsonian, pictured as it was being loaded onto the Redstone rocket for launch. Photo courtesy of NASA.

As part of this relationship, the Science Center derives several benefits including the advantage of extended loan periods that range from 10-15 years as opposed to traditional three-year loan agreements with year-to-year renewals—significantly enhancing the ability to plan exhibitions with long-term goals in mind. This status also enhances the probability of receiving loans of the most historically important artifacts in the circulating collection of the Smithsonian. In joint education, lecture and traveling exhibition programs of the Smithsonian, the Science Center is now authorized to use the tag line "in association with the Smithsonian Institution."

Along with the benefits of the Smithsonian Affiliate membership, the Science Center assumes added responsibilities by enhancing its role in the care of the national artifact collection, which is ultimately entrusted to the Smithsonian Institution by virtue of its charter. These additional responsibilities are a source of pride in that they effectively redefine the Science Center as a curatorial extension of the National Air and Space Museum.

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