Louis Purnell Named Curator at National Air and Space Museum 1980, 1980, Smithsonian Archives - History Div, Louis R. Purnell becomes curator of the Department of Space Science of the National Air and Space Museum, thus becoming the Smithsonian Institution's first African American curator. Purnell was a Tuskegee Airman who started working for the Smithsonian Institution in 1961 as a Museum Specialist with the National Museum of Natural History. He would become an instrumental part of building the astronautics branch of NASM, becoming the world's foremost expert on space suits. He was also instrumental in bringing the Tuskegee Airmen exhibit to life..