Naval Aviation in Space

Help Us Save the Painting!

In 1986 an original painting by George McWilliams, dedicated to Mike Smith who perished in the Challenger accident, was hung in the Officer’s Club that stood on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay.  The painting was an inspiration to test pilots and engineers alike who dreamed of becoming astronauts.

Unfortunately, the O’Club where it was displayed was designated for demolition. With some coordination and good fortune, the painting was removed from the wall on which it was mounted and has been added to the collection of the National History and Heritage Command and will be on permanent loan to our Museum.

The painting depicts the four Mercury astronauts but also every phase of Naval Aviation in Space from Gemini to the Space Shuttle. You will notice that the corner of the painting shows many signs of deterioration and it is in need of significant restoration, repair, and preservation in order to be hung amongst our exhibits in the Museum.


Patuxent River has been tied to human space flight since the day the Mercury astronauts were announced, with four of the seven as graduates of the United States Naval Test Pilot School. From Alan Shepard’s flight as the first American in space, to the Gemini missions including Gene Cernan’s spacewalk that developed the technology for Apollo astronauts John Young and Ken Mattingly, among others, to walk on the moon, to the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia piloted by Bob Crippen, these achievements are represented in the twelve by twenty-four foot mural.

We need your help in providing the funding required to have the painting professionally conserved and prepared for display.  We are establishing a campaign to reach out to loyal supporters of Pax River and others who know the historic value of this painting and the cultural resource that it will become.

More information about the painting’s history, personal stories and memories, and fundraising and conservation efforts will be shared with our friends and members in the coming months.

This is a large undertaking for us and we appreciate any donation you can provide; any amount will be valuable in allowing us to conserve and display this historic artifact.

We have established processes so that you can donate online at: or by phone by calling 301-863-1900 x 4.

Thank you!

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