The distance between Pittsburgh and the Moon is getting smaller every day.
Already, the North Side-based space technology company Astrobotic (which received nearly $200 million to deliver a NASA Rover to the moon in 2020) has become a major player in the new space race, alongside other private companies such as SpaceX. Space travel and exploration are moving at a pace that we haven’t seen since the 1960s.
To capture that sense of excitement, Astrobotic is opening a nonprofit museum dedicated to space, the Moonshot Museum, at its new 47,000-square-foot headquarters and mission control located at 1016 N. Lincoln Avenue in Manchester.
The main attraction will be a large clean room with a window through which visitors can watch the development of lunar rovers that Astrobotic is building. Digital and on-site educational workshops will simulate space missions and build awareness of tech and space-related careers in Pittsburgh and around the world.
The space industry is valued at more than $420 billion, and it doesn’t just need engineers.
“Space is more than just rocket science,” says Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, who is also chair of the museum’s board of directors. “We want to provide the ‘spark’ – that moment when an individual is inspired to pursue a space or tech career who may not have otherwise done so.”
The exhibitions will show how accessible space is, and “how it impacts our daily lives now,” says Sam Moore, executive director of the Moonshot Museum.
“If you’re not great at math, and you don’t love science, there are still so many opportunities to plug into the work of space,” says Moore. “We’re going to focus on unpacking that with middle and high school students, as well as with our Pittsburgh community — and figure out how Pittsburgh can continue to grow its already pretty significant role in the new space sector.”
You won’t be able to get much closer to space without physically leaving the planet.
“The opportunity to get this close to space work like this is pretty unprecedented in museums,” says Moore. “We’re excited to build a new model here in Pittsburgh.”
It’s not an obvious place to put a space museum (like, say Houston or Cape Canaveral) but it’s not a bad place for it either.
“Pittsburgh has a really rich history of industry and has been a part of space industry really for as long as it’s been around. It played a huge role in the Apollo program, and continues to play a big role today,” says Moore. “Just over the past few years, there have been hundreds of millions of dollars just from NASA and [the Department of Defense] contracts that have come into Western Pennsylvania. The reality is a lot of really exciting space work is happening here.”
Moore sees the Moonshot Museum as more than a local asset, but as a potential regional and even national attraction.
The museum is supported by an initial grant of $500,000 from the R.K. Mellon Foundation. The Moonshot Museum is also looking for space, science and education enthusiasts to volunteer to help run programs.
“It’s about creating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) opportunities that will change a child’s life,” says Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto. “Looking in through that clean room window, they’ll be able to see something that will leave this planet, and they’ll be changed forever. It’s about bringing the Moon to Pittsburgh.”
Liftoff for the Moonshot Museum is planned for next summer.