Staring at stars in sky-gazing Madrid

NASA show in the capital chronicles a modern obsession with space

There are things up there, above our heads. NASA: The Adventure of Space brings to Madrid the team and the technology that made the discovery of space possible; but it also represents the chronicle of a heroic human endeavor.

"In this exhibition, we wanted to stress the human side of the adventure," says José Araújo, executive producer of a show that features 300 original items displayed over 2,500 square meters.

The various halls at Pavilion XII of Madrid's Casa de Campo convention center display the space suits that protect the astronauts from the extreme conditions that surround our placid planet, and reproduce the cramped living conditions inside the spaceships, where the astronauts sometimes had to spend entire days without getting up from an uncomfortable seat (as in the Mercury and Gemini missions).

The show also pays tribute to the dreamers who envisioned the space adventure back before even airplanes were around: the science-fiction writers, commemorated inside a room with a distinctly steampunk feel to it.

There is an impressive lifesize scale model of the Atlantis, which visitors may enter, and a wealth of items that document the paranoia and paraphernalia of the space race in the 1960s: J. F. Kennedy, the Sputnik of the "evil" Soviets and the Cold War context are all referenced. Also on display are several covers of Life magazine reporting the latest space-related breakthroughs.

"NASA has a close relationship with Madrid," says Carlos González with pride. González is the artistic curator of the show and the former deputy director of the Madrid Deep Space Communications Complex, in Robledo de Chavela - one of just three such centers that NASA runs in the world to communicate with flights away on mission. "This is where we received the first image of Mars, taken by the Mariner space probe. And we also relayed the Apollo 11's messages when it landed on the moon," he recalls.

It is perhaps not for nothing that the capital's motto is "De Madrid al cielo," or From Madrid to the heavens. Besides the seven white stars against a red background that make up the regional flag, the Madrid coat of arms featuring a bear and a strawberry tree also has seven stars all around it, a reference to the Big Dipper that was introduced in the 16th century, when Madrid became the Spanish capital. And the first Spanish astronaut, Pedro Duque, a member of the European Space Agency, was born in Madrid. So was Miguel López-Alegría, later nationalized American, who worked for NASA (and is a fan of Real Madrid).

NASA: The Adventure of Space. At Pavilion 12 of Recinto Ferial Casa de Campo, Avda de Portugal S/N, Madrid. www.laaventuradelespacio.com

The Mercury missions took some of the first living beings into space.
The Mercury missions took some of the first living beings into space.CLAUDIO ÁLVAREZ

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