national air and space museum

From left to right, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley at a panel discussion at the 1992 Star Trek exhibition opening.

Marilyn Kozak retired from the Smithsonian as director of donor relations in 2011, but in 1992 she was asked to serve as the gallery supervisor of the Museum’s Star Trek exhibition. They kept coming. Sometimes over 4,000 a day. Some wore uniforms, others had memorized entire scripts, many were just curious. The president of Mozambique, Sonny Bono, Chelsea Clinton, David Copperfield, and Gary Busey all came to see. But the usually crowded Star Trek gallery at the National Air and Space Museum was quiet and empty early one morning when Leonard and Adam Nimoy came to visit. How can a fan (me) NOT be excited about standing under the model of the Starship Enterprise with Spock in the flesh. But my role that morning was gallery supervisor, not “fan.” That meant no pictures, no autographs, just a casual conversation about how the ears took SO long to get JUST right, the raging controversy over that first bi-racial kiss, and the “state-of-the-art” special effects that, well, just didn’t look quite that special anymore. We ended the visit watching the video clip of Joan Collins getting killed by a car as a devastated James T. Kirk looks on. The Nimoys smiled, it was time for them to move on. As we exited the gallery, I showed them the guest book with the names of, and comments from, thousands of visitors. Mr. Nimoy seemed genuinely moved as he paused to read the many pages of tributes, recollections, and expressions of appreciation from fans of a low-rated, often panned, sometimes cheesy but highly relevant television show.Not everyone at the Smithsonian thought the Star Trek gallery was a good idea and they were unprepared for the huge crowds that visited every day during its short run. Leonard Nimoy was initially conflicted about his role as Spock and I suspect he was just as unprepared for the intense notoriety that waned and waxed over the years.But just as the Smithsonian remains a much beloved institution, Nimoy, as an actor, artist, musician, director, and of course as Spock continues to inspire. Thank you for encouraging us to go boldly and allowing us to join you on your journey to explore strange new worlds. It’s been a blast!

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More from Col Buz Carpenter and the SR-71 Blackbird

By +Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

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Visiting a museum full of airplanes and rocket ships is a pretty awesome field trip. Now imagine camping out for a whole night in Smithsonian’s huge hangar outside Washington D.C. You’re there with a few other lucky kids, some grownups, and aviation treasures like the space shuttle Discovery.

Sean Mclaughlin, 10, is one of those kids. He’s picking out his pilot code name — using the aviation alphabet: Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot. He reads each word aloud, sitting just to the side of a F8U Crusader — the first carrier-based jet fighter to exceed 1,000 miles per hour.


Sean finally settles on the perfect code name: Alpha Whiskey Yankee — the first step in his on boarding as a young pilot on this sleepover adventure at the Smithsonian’s massive Udvar-Hazy Center.

This was the first year the Smithsonian offered sleepovers at the center, also called the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s annex near the runways of Washington Dulles International Airport. The cost? $135 if you’re not a museum member. Even though it was just about sold out this year, there are plans in the works for next summer.

The kids arrived early in the evening, once all the tourists had gone, and quickly spread out over the giant space on an all-night scavenger hunt and quiz. Stops along the way included: making helicopters and learning to wave a jetliner safely into the gate.

In the wing of the museum devoted to space exploration, I find Soraya Okely, 8. She says she’d like to be an astronaut some day.

Big Wings, Bigger Dreams: A Sleepover In The Space Shuttle’s Shadow

Photos: Ariel Zambelich/NPR