Astronaut and space objects of all kinds will be on display all day June 15 in Sparta.

A street block will be closed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the Deke Slayton Space & Bike Museum hosts Space Day, a free-to-the-public block party to celebrate the museum’s 20th anniversary.

Museum director Alli Karrels said the center of the celebration is a traveling space museum. It includes 12 interactive exhibits of items few people would have the opportunity to see and interact with.

Some of the exhibits include a space lab module, space toilet, lunar rover, Pluto probe, space suits and a Wright kite.

“We’re really excited about the event; I think the community’s going to love it,” she said. “If you don’t come to this, I think you’re going to regret it because unless you train to be an astronaut, you’d never be able to experience some of these things or view them.”

She described the exhibit as a “a-once-in-a lifetime kind of experience.”

It’s one day only ... so if you snooze you lose,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

In addition to the space exhibits, there will be explosive science demonstrations by Oakley Moser at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m., old-time games provided by the Monroe County Local History Room, Kid’s Corner Crafts at the Sparta Free Library across the street and free frozen custard will be provided in the museum gallery by Culver’s.

The event is free, and food will be sold on site. The Lion’s Club is holding a chicken-q, and Sparta Area Cancer Support will sell brats and hot dogs.

Besides the activities, Karrels said the anniversary is a culmination of a bigger strategic plan for the museum, including making improvements to the museum itself and building on the museum’s endowment. She said the endowment is not enough to run the day-to-day operations of the museum.

“We created an endowment for the future of the museum, and an endowment is where you’ll invest (money) and you don’t touch that invested money, the principal. That interest then is something that you can use for day-to-day operations.”

For the remodeling, the museum hopes to create a larger and versatile area at the front of the museum to house a changing exhibit. Right now, all of the museum’s exhibits are permanent, and Karrels said museum staff want to change out an annual exhibit and do something different each year.

“We’ve been able to do some museum updates such as new carpeting, we have new museum gift shop, shelving and we’re going to be installing a new custom desk,” she said.

She said donations will be accepted during Space Day.

The museum opened in 1999 and has grown significantly since then, Karrels said. Back then it was a humble exhibit of a few bikes and a few space items.

Now the museum is home to a piece of moon rock, a large bike collection, Deke Slayton’s Formula 1 race plane and many more space exhibits.

Attendance has also grown, Karrels said. Over 7,000 people visit the museum each year, and it engages with over 1,500 school children. It has also started the Deke Slayton Space Camp, which is in its fourth year.

One question Karrels always gets from museum visitors is what outer space and bikes have in common. The answer: Sparta is the bicycle capital of the U.S. and is the hometown of former astronaut Deke Slayton.

“We combined the subjects together into a progression of transportation starting with bikes, going on to planes and then into space,” she said.

A Monroe County native and graduate of Sparta High School, Slayton was chosen as one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts. He served in World War II and in the Korea War and was selected from a narrow pool of candidates to be among to first to fly in outer space.

Slayton is an interesting character, Karrels said. He was actually slated to fly astronaut John Glenn’s mission as the first American to orbit the earth, but it was discovered that Slayton had a slight heart palpitation and was taken off active flight duty. However Slayton stayed involved in the space program.

“He moved into the background; he was a really good team player ... and became head of the astronauts’ activities office. He was really in charge of the training the astronauts received, choosing the next class of astronauts and picking the teams,” she said. “All of those Apollo missions that went to the moon, he was in charge of those. He picked the right people for the right spots and really helped people achieve America’s dream of getting to the moon.”

Eventually Slayton did get to go into space, Karrels said. In 1975 Slayton was part of the Apollo-Soyuz Mission, the docking mission between the U.S. and the Russians. It was the first international mission of its kind and paved the way for the International Space Station.

During the mission Slayton got a call from President Gerald Ford asking if Slayton had any advice for school children, and he said, “Decide what you want to do and never give up until you’ve done it.” Karrels said it’s a message the museum is eager to share.

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Meghan Flynn can be reached at meghan.flynn@lee.net.


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