Oklahoma City family fun stretches beyond our city and its suburbs. Space, science and the wonder of the universe, though, is much closer than you might imagine.
The Stafford Air & Space Museum should be your next family day trip.
Here are three reasons why:
Change up your summer: Make this summer memorable with an easy car trip. My children aren’t always tolerant of long car rides but Weatherford is a surprisingly short drive from Oklahoma City. Sam, Isaac and Gabriel are 10, 5 and 2; they settled in with a copy of “National Geographic: Special Space Edition” but were barely through its first read-aloud sections before we pulled off the highway In fact, there was no “Are we there yet?” because we were stretching our legs in the Museum’s parking lot within 90 minutes of having left home. My husband flew from Costa Rica to Houston as a child to see NASA’s Johnson Space Center. We were thinking about making the seven-hour drive but after visiting the Stafford Air and Space Museum, we concluded there’s actually more to see right here close to home. It turns out Oklahoma is the only state to have had an astronaut fly in every American-manned space program; bringing home some of that legacy is fitting and every young Oklahoman who looks at our corner of the night sky should go see the Stafford Air and Space Museum.
Be amazed: There’s more than an acre of flight memorabilia that traces aviation history from before the Wright brothers to the most recent space technology. Its evolution is documented with pieces on loan from larger institutions or gifted from private collections. General Thomas Stafford makes regular visits and his influence also aids in the continually growing collection. Admittedly, I didn’t know what to expect at the Stafford Air & Museum. I feared we were driving over to Weatherford to see a moon rock and some dusty books or worn equipment. The visit proved nothing like that and instead is the highlight of our summer so far. A moon rock is really the least of their collection. We saw the 10-story Titan II rocket, complete and incredible, a nuclear war head, space suits that have actually flown and so many individual engines, thrusters and mechanical remnants that we could have stayed all afternoon. What I had anticipated would take up maybe two hours could have easily been a four-hour visit.
Spark that interest: A renewed interest in science and space exploration has come up in a lot of households recently, between Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos,” the movie “Hidden Figures” and recent science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related education efforts. Capitalize on that by making it relevant. We watch a lot of “NOVA” but there’s nothing like seeing the artifacts first-hand. The hands-on activities available at the Museum make all that content more relevant to kids, with flight simulators, building kits, explanations about space shuttle logistics and functions on earth versus in zero gravity conditions. Sitting in a small plane and pretending to fly, with all the requisite switches, buttons and flight instruments to touch, was my sons’ favorite part of the visit. Watching them match pictures in their “National Geographic” magazine to the items right in front of them was ours.
Ours is a family of boys but if I had a daughter or championed a community group for girls, I would schedule a trip to the Stafford Air & Space Museum. Women’s role in aviation history, through both world wars and into the Space Program is well documented with evidence on-hand to show that there’s room for everyone within related technologies.
Chaney Latham, assistant director and marketing coordinator, just got her pilot’s license and would doubtlessly give a great tour to girls interested in seeing all that women’s accomplishments in the field. A related career seems possible when you see women doing what you want to do or wonder if you can do and that’s what makes local visits, local women, legendary historical figures who have ties to your state so important.
Another big draw was the gift shop, honestly. Sam bought a rocket module to assemble, Isaac came home with a Mars Rover replica and everyone ate freeze dried ice cream before heading over to Lucille’s for dinner.
Weatherford’s Route ’66 fame and connection to the “Cars” movies is reason enough for many families to plan a visit but that famous road leads so much farther. General Stafford’s mother came to Oklahoma in a covered wagon, according to Museum lore, and saw her son reach the stars. Visits like this let me daydream about where mine will go and they just might wonder about those same possibilities because of museums like this one. Kids have to see and do for science to be real. A visit is worth the drive.
Have fun watching them learn this summer!