SANTA FE -- Governor Susana Martinez has approved the appointment of a new director to lead the New Mexico Museum of Space History, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA). DCA Cabinet Secretary Veronica Gonzales announced the appointment of Christopher Orwoll, former President and CEO of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, as the new director of the museum in Alamogordo. Orwoll will assume his new post on June 25.
“Christopher Orwoll is a seasoned professional with outstanding experience to lead one of our state’s most cherished and important cultural institutions,” Secretary Gonzales said. “He brings a unique combination of top level museum management with a distinguished military record.” Gonzales noted that Orwoll began his museum career after retiring as a Nuclear Submarine Officer for the U.S. Navy with 20 years of service.
As President and CEO of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, Orwoll focused on expanding the role of the facility’s restoration center, and the integration of more interactive exhibits. Collaborations with other organizations included design and installation of the Space Gallery at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon; presentation of the traveling exhibit “NASA: A Human Adventure,” which opened in Stockholm; and the opening of two new galleries at the Cosmosphere: “Investigate Space: Our Universe,” and “Investigate Space: The Astronaut Experience.” “Investigate Space: Our Universe” was awarded the Mountain Plains Museum Association Leadership and Innovation Award in 2011. In addition, Orwoll was instrumental in creating “Living in Space,” a live space science program that toured more than 300 schools across the country in 2011-2012.
“My family and I are extremely excited to be headed to Alamogordo and to the museum. The mission of the museum aligns perfectly with the phenomenal space history of the area and New Mexico as a whole,” Orwoll said. “This is a unique opportunity to blend the cultural and scientific heritage of this region as the world begins the new age of commercial space exploration. The past, present and future of space is showcased in southern New Mexico. With all the training and research done at Holloman Air Force Base, the landing of STS-3 at White Sands Space Harbor, and now the future of spaceflight with Virgin Galactic, the Spaceship Company, and Spaceport America, what better hotbed to be in than New Mexico?”
Orwoll grew up in Downey, California, where the Apollo Command Module and space shuttle were built. “I have had a love of space since childhood,” he said. He is a 1986 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and has a master’s degree from the Air War College. Orwoll’s final Naval posting was as the Professor of Naval Science and Commanding Officer of the Naval ROTC Unit at the University of Kansas.
Orwoll is married to his high school sweetheart. The couple have nine children, who according to Orwoll were “all born in different states or countries -- it kind of follows our time in the Navy!”
The state’s premier science and technology museum began as the International Space Hall of Fame in 1976. It sits atop State Highway 2001 at the base of the Sacramento Mountains. The golden cube of the New Mexico Museum of Space History overlooks the Tularosa Basin, known as the “birthplace of space,” and is host to more than 80,000 visitors each year.
Secretary Gonzales expressed gratitude and commendation to Mark Santiago, director of DCA’s Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces, who also served as interim director of the Space History Museum in recent months. Santiago was director of the Space History Museum from 2000 to 2006.
The Department of Cultural Affairs includes, the New Mexico Museum of Space History, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and the New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, and the New Mexico State Monuments division in Santa Fe; the Museum of Natural History & Science and the National Hispanic Cultural Center, both in Albuquerque; the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo; and the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces. The department also administers the Office of Archaeological Studies, New Mexico State Library, New Mexico Arts, the Historic Preservation Division and the Center for Museum Resources.