November is a big month for space buffs. Five years ago this month, Bill Shepherd and his crew, flight engineers Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko, first arrived at the International Space Station. 39 years ago this month, Gemini XII made its only trip into space with Jim Lovell and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin aboard. And, on Saturday, Nov. 12, Captain Wally Schirra, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, and Ed Buckbee, author and NASA consultant, will be at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kan., for a free public book signing.

Since 1961, more than 400 humans have ventured into space. And since Nov. 2, 2000, the International Space Station has grown and evolved into a unique, state-of-the-art laboratory complex — as well as held a continuous human presence — thanks to a partnership between NASA, the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Its microgravity environment — something that cannot be duplicated on Earth — helps scientists further humankind’s knowledge of how the human body functions for long periods of time in space. This is vital information if we are going to have long-duration missions to Mars or establish a base on the moon.

“The shape of our future space exploration is still to be formed,” says Shepherd. “We may have adequate technologies, but exploration is more about purpose.”

We — all humankind — started out small, a little satellite called Sputnik. But now, says Shepherd, “We are at a crossroads, deciding whether we are bound to inhabit only the Earth, or if humans are to live and work far from the home planet.”

In the U.S., the space program started with the Mercury program, which is the primary subject of Schirra’s and Buckbee’s book, “The Real Space Cowboys.” Released in paperback with a DVD on May 1 of this year, it covers the early years of the American space program, through the moon landings, with an emphasis on the Mercury Seven, the elite fighter pilots who were selected to be America’s first astronauts. The signing will take place in the Cosmosphere’s lobby from noon to 2 p.m.

Following Mercury was Gemini. Whereas the Mercury capsules proved we could get a person into space and into orbit, the Gemini program demonstrated the flight duration, teamwork and rendezvous methods that would be necessary to go to the moon. This month, the specialists at the Cosmosphere will take in the Gemini XII craft and spend the next three months restoring it, just as they did with the Gemini VI and Gemini X.

After Gemini, came Apollo, the program and landed humans on the moon. If you’d like a taste of what that experience was like, go no further than your local IMAX theater. “Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D,” directed by Mark Cowen and produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, claims to “transport you to the lunar surface to walk alongside the 12 extraordinary astronauts who have been there to experience what they saw, heard, felt, thought and did.” Presented and narrated by Tom Hanks, “Magnificent Desolation” is sponsored by Lockheed Martin Corporation and filmed with the cooperation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. For a listing of theatres playing this movie in the U.S. and Canada, go to the IMAX website.

SUMMARY OF EVENTS DISCUSSED
Free Public Book Signing
The Real Space Cowboys
By Wally Schirra and Ed Buckbee
Saturday, Nov. 12
Noon to 2 p.m.
Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center
Hutchinson, Kansas
www.cosmo.org

Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D
IMAX Theaters
Now Playing Listing of Theatres