Space Center Houston has been named Houston's first Smithsonian Affiliate.

The official designation came this week. The Smithsonian program gives the center access to more than 138 million artifacts, specimens and works of art in the national system, as well as more than 50 traveling exhibitions through the Smithsonian Institution.

Officials at Space Center say the national recognition and exposure for the institution is expected to increase annual visits, boosting the center's $45 million annual impact on the greater Houston area.

Next year, Space Center Houston will open a $12 million exhibit, including the "Independence" shuttle replica and a shuttle aircraft carrier.

Space Center's "month of firsts" launches with The Next Giant Leap: Beyond Planet Earth. Open Oct. 8, the all new exhibition explores how humanity will take its first steps towards living and working in deep space, independent of the Earth. This is the first exhibition of the center's "Next Giant Leap" 2014-15 season of educational programs and exhibits aligned with NASA's deep-space exploration initiatives.

The Smithsonian Institution is the world's largest museum and research complex, with 19 museums and galleries and the National Zoological Park.