Next to a prototype Soviet lunar suit, pristine from lack of use, hangs the equivalent Apollo space gear, scuffed and soiled with moon dust. This image neatly sums up “Space Race,” the new exhibit at the National Air & Space Museum. President Kennedy officially declared the race in 1961 and set the moon as the goal line (a cocky gesture, since up to then American astronauts had logged a grand total of 15 minutes in space). The U.S.S.R. ran a closer contest than most people remember. Two days before Apollo 11 lifted off, the Soviets launched a robot lander that—if it hadn’t crashed—would have rushed home the first lunar soil samples hours ahead of Neil Armstrong and crew. “Space Race” covers 50 years of cosmic one-upmanship, from V-2s to space stations. Unique personal artifacts fill the display cases, such as a doll autographed by cosmonaut Vikto Patsayev, who died in 1971 when his Soyuz 11 capsule depressurized during re-entry. (Ironically, Patsayev had postdated his signature for the day after his anticipated return.) A zero-G chess set, fitted with pegs and grooves to keep the pieces from floating off, is one of 11 objects donated by tycoon Ross Perot, who acquired them at a 1993 Sotheby’s auction. A display on spy satellites underscores the military origins of the space programs and includes an aerial shot of Washington taken by a Russian Zenit probe, showing objects as small as 16-and-a-half feet across. Hey, I think I saw my house over there. At the National Air & Space Museum, 6th & Independence Ave. SW. FREE. (202) 357-2700. (Greg Kitsock)