National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall

Milk and cookies! Yummy!

National Air & Space Museum

This is the Apollo 11 Command Module! We saw it at the museum!

National Air & Space Museum

Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia
Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia

It says here that the Command Module was the living quarters for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins during their 8-day journey to the moon in July 1969. It has an interior of just 6 cubic metres – a little less than the inside of a compact car. It may have felt roomy to Michael Collins, once his two colleagues departed for the lunar surface, leaving him to orbit alone in the Columbia for almost 24 hours. In his book Carrying the Fire, Collins recalls the feeling of solitude: “Radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon, I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it.”

Thanks to recent efforts by the Smithsonian’s 3D Digitization Program, we now know what the three men wrote on the walls in that cramped space. The digitization project uses cameras and software that capture information without requiring a person to enter – and potentially damage – the space craft. Once the 3D model of Columbia is completed, anyone with access to a 3D printer will be able to download and print his own copy of the artefact.

Mummeeee! We need a 3D printer! I wonder if we can make our own copy of the 1903 Wright Flyer. We saw that at the museum, but it didn’t come with any stamps!

National Air & Space Museum

1903 Wright Flyer
1903 Wright Flyer

The Wright brothers inaugurated the aerial age with the world’s first successful flights of a powered heavier-than-air flying machine. The Wright Flyer was the product of a sophisticated four-year program of research and development conducted by Wilbur and Orville Wright beginning in 1899. After building and testing three full-sized gliders, the Wrights’ first powered airplane flew at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903, making a 12-second flight, traveling 36m, with Orville piloting. The best flight of the day, with Wilbur at the controls, covered 255.6m in 59 seconds.

From the first flight in 1903 to landing on the moon in 1969 it was an amazing achievement. Since then the world has changed, and the future does not seem to hold quite the same possibilities as it once did.

The Wrights pioneered many of the basic tenets and techniques of modern aeronautical engineering, such as the use of a wind tunnel and flight testing as design tools. Their seminal accomplishment encompassed not only the breakthrough first flight of an airplane, but also the equally important achievement of establishing the foundation of aeronautical engineering.

The Wright brothers had a passing interest in flight as youngsters. In 1878 their father gave them a toy flying helicopter model powered by strands of twisted rubber. They played and experimented with it extensively and even built several larger copies of the device. They also had some experience with kites. But not until 1896, prompted by the widely publicized fatal crash of famed glider pioneer Otto Lilienthal, did the Wrights begin serious study of flight. After absorbing what materials related to the subject the brothers had available locally, Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Institution on May 30, 1899, requesting any publications on aeronautics that it could offer.

Shortly after their receipt of the Smithsonian materials, the Wrights built their first aeronautical craft, a five-foot-wingspan biplane kite, in the summer of 1899. The Wrights chose to follow Lilienthal’s lead of using gliders as a stepping stone towards a practical powered airplane. The 1899 kite was built as a preliminary test device to establish the viability of the control system that they planned to use in their first full-size glider. This means of control would be a central feature of the later successful powered airplane.

Rather than controlling the craft by altering the centre of gravity by shifting the pilot’s body weight as Lilienthal had done, the Wrights intended to balance their glider aerodynamically. They reasoned that if a wing generates lift when presented to an oncoming flow of air, producing differing amounts of lift on either end of the wing would cause one side to rise more than the other, which in turn would bank the entire aircraft. A mechanical means of inducing this differential lift would provide the pilot with effective lateral control of the airplane. The Wrights accomplished this by twisting, or warping, the tips of the wings in opposite directions via a series of lines attached to the outer edges of the wings that were manipulated by the pilot. The idea advanced aeronautical experimentation significantly because it provided an effective method of controlling an airplane in three-dimensional space and, because it was aerodynamically based, it did not limit the size of the aircraft as shifting body weight obviously did. The satisfactory performance of the 1899 kite demonstrated the practicality of the wing warping control system.

1903 Wright Flyer
1903 Wright Flyer

Encouraged by the success of their small wing warping kite, the brothers built and flew two full-size piloted gliders in 1900 and 1901. Beyond the issue of control, the Wrights had to grapple with developing an efficient airfoil shape and solving fundamental problems of structural design. Like the kite, these gliders were biplanes. For control of climb and descent, the gliders had forward-mounted horizontal stabilizers. Neither craft had a tail. The Wrights’ home of Dayton, Ohio, did not offer suitable conditions for flying the gliders. An inquiry with the US Weather Bureau identified Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, with its sandy, wide-open spaces and strong, steady winds as an optimal test site. In September 1900, the Wrights made their first trip to the little fishing hamlet that they would make world famous.

Although the control system worked well and the structural design of the craft was sound, the lift of the gliders was substantially less than the Wrights’ earlier calculations had predicted. They began to question seriously the aerodynamic data that they had used. Now at a critical juncture, Wilbur and Orville decided to conduct an extensive series of tests of wing shapes. They built a small wind tunnel in the fall of 1901 to gather a body of accurate aerodynamic data with which to design their next glider. The heart of the Wright wind tunnel was the ingeniously designed pair of test instruments that were mounted inside. These measured coefficients of lift and drag on small model wing shapes, the terms in the equations for calculating lift and drag about which the brothers were in doubt.

The Wrights’ third glider, built in 1902 based on the wind tunnel experiments, was a dramatic success. The lift problems were solved, and with a few refinements to the control system (the key one being a movable vertical tail), they were able to make numerous extended controlled glides. They made between seven hundred and one thousand flights in 1902. The single best one was 191.5m in 26 seconds. The brothers were now convinced that they stood at the threshold of realizing mechanical flight.

During the spring and summer of 1903 they built their first powered airplane. Essentially a larger and sturdier version of the 1902 glider, the only fundamentally new component of the 1903 aircraft was the propulsion system. With the assistance of their bicycle shop mechanic, Charles Taylor, the Wrights built a small, twelve-horsepower gasoline engine. While the engine was a significant enough achievement, the genuinely innovative feature of the propulsion system was the propellers. The brothers conceived the propellers as rotary wings, producing a horizontal thrust force aerodynamically. By turning an airfoil section on its side and spinning it to create an air flow over the surface, the Wrights reasoned that a horizontal “lift” force would be generated that would propel the airplane forward. The concept was one of the most original and creative aspects of the Wrights’ aeronautical work. The 1903 airplane was fitted with two propellers mounted behind the wings and connected to the engine, centrally located on the bottom wing, via a chain-and-sprocket transmission system.

By the fall of 1903, the powered airplane was ready for trial. A number of problems with the engine transmission system delayed the first flight attempt until mid-December. After winning the toss of a coin to determine which brother would make the first try, Wilbur took the pilot’s position and made an unsuccessful attempt on December 14, damaging the Flyer slightly. Repairs were completed for a second attempt on December 17. It was now Orville’s turn. At 10:35am the Flyer lifted off the beach at Kitty Hawk for a 12-second flight, traveling 36m. Three more flights were made that morning, the brothers alternating as pilot. The second and third were in the range of two hundred feet. With Wilbur at the controls, the fourth and last flight covered 255.6m in 59 seconds. With this final long, sustained effort, there was no question the Wrights had flown.

The 1903 Wright Flyer rests atop the "Grand Junction Railroad", ready for flight
The 1903 Wright Flyer rests atop the “Grand Junction Railroad”, ready for flight
1903 Wright Flyer First Flight, Kitty Hawk, NC With Orville Wright at the controls and Wilbur Wright mid-stride, right, the 1903 Wright Flyer makes its first flight at Kitty Hawk, NC, 17 December, 1903
1903 Wright Flyer First Flight, Kitty Hawk, NC
With Orville Wright at the controls and Wilbur Wright mid-stride, right, the 1903 Wright Flyer makes its first flight at Kitty Hawk, NC, 17 December, 1903

As the brothers and the others present discussed the long flight, a gust of wind overturned the Wright Flyer and sent it tumbling across the sand. The aircraft was severely damaged and never flown again. But the Wrights had achieved what they had set out to do. They had successfully demonstrated their design for a heavier-than-air flying machine. They built refined versions of the Flyer in 1904 and 1905, bringing the design to practicality. On October 5, 1905, with the brothers’ third powered airplane, Wilbur made a spectacular 39-minute flight that covered 39.2km over a closed course.

After the first powered Flyer of 1903 took its destructive tumble at Kitty Hawk, the Wrights crated it and shipped it back to Dayton where it remained in storage in a shed behind their bicycle shop, untouched for more than a decade. In March 1913, Dayton was hit by a serious flood, during which the boxes containing the Flyer were submerged in water and mud for eleven days. The airplane was uncrated, for the first time since Kitty Hawk, in the summer of 1916, when Orville repaired and reassembled the airplane for brief exhibition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Several other brief displays followed. It was exhibited at the New York Aero Show in 1917, at a Society of Automotive Engineers meeting in Dayton in 1918, at the New York Aero Show in 1919, and at the National Air Races in Dayton in 1924. On each of these occasions the Wright Flyer was prepared and assembled for exhibition by a Wright Company mechanic named Jim Jacobs, working under the supervision of Orville.

In 1928 the airplane was placed on loan to the Science Museum in London. Before shipping it to Europe, Orville and Jim Jacobs refurbished the Flyer extensively. The fabric covering was replaced completely with new material, although it was of the same type as the original “Pride of the West” muslin. The remaining 1903 fabric that was on the airplane when it flew was saved and portions of it still exist in various places. During World War II, the airplane was kept in an underground storage facility near the village of Corsham, approximately 160km from London, where various British national treasures were secured. The Flyer was not stored in the London subway as has been often asserted. The airplane was returned to the United States in 1948 and formally donated to the Smithsonian Institution in an elaborate ceremony on December 17, the 45th anniversary of the flights, and it has been on public display there ever since.

The Flyer received some minor repairs and cleaning in 1976 just before being moved into the Smithsonian’s then new National Air and Space Museum building. In 1985, the airplane was given its first major treatment since preparing it for loan to the Science Museum in late 1926 and early 1927. It was completely disassembled, the parts thoroughly cleaned and preserved, and all new fabric covering applied. A careful search was made to locate new fabric that matched the original as closely as possible. When the fabric was replaced in 1927, it was sewn on in a slightly different way than originally done by the brothers in 1903. When stitching the new fabric in 1985, a large section of original flown 1903 wing covering was available and used as a pattern, ensuring the accuracy of the 1985 restoration.

SpaceShipOne
SpaceShipOne

With SpaceShipOne, private enterprise crossed the threshold into human spaceflight, previously the domain of government programs. The SpaceShipOne team aimed for a simple, robust, and reliable vehicle design that could make affordable space travel and tourism possible. SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for repeated flights in a privately developed reusable spacecraft, the Collier Trophy for greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in 2004, and the National Air and Space Museum Trophy for Current Achievement.

Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen funded SpaceShipOne, and Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites designed and built it. Launched from its White Knight mothership, the rocket-powered SpaceShipOne and its pilot ascended just beyond the atmosphere, arced through space (but not into orbit), then glided safely back to Earth. The flight lasted 24 minutes, with 3 minutes of weightlessness. SpaceShipOne had three record-setting flights, two by Mike Melvill and one by Brian Binnie, all in 2004. The success of SpaceShipOne inspired the creation of Virgin Galactic, a company founded to add private suborbital tourist flights to the existing world of commercial spaceflight business. It also helped clear the way for NASA’s public-private partnerships to develop new spacecraft to carry crews and cargo.

Spirit of St Louis
Spirit of St Louis

In 1922, after a year and a half at the University of Wisconsin, Lindbergh left to study aeronautics with the Nebraska Aircraft Corporation. He was a ‘barnstormer” until 1924, when he enrolled as a flying cadet in the Army Air Service. He won his reserve commission and began serving as a civilian airmail pilot, flying the route between St. Louis and Chicago.

Early in 1927 he obtained the backing of several St. Louis men to compete for the $25,000 prize offered by Raymond Orteig in 1919 for the first nonstop flight between New York City and Paris. In February of that year Lindbergh placed an order with Ryan Airlines in San Diego for an aircraft with specifications necessary to make the flight.

Development began based on a standard Ryan M-2, with Donald A. Hall as principal designer. Certain modifications to the basic high-wing, strut-braced monoplane design had to be made because of the nature of the flight. The wingspan was increased by 10 feet and the structural members of the fuselage and wing cellule were redesigned to accommodate the greater fuel load. Plywood was fitted along the leading edge of the wings. The fuselage design followed that of a standard M-2 except that it was lengthened 2 feet. The cockpit was moved further to the rear for safety and the engine was moved forward for balance, thus permitting the fuel tank to be installed at the center of gravity. The pilot could see forward only by means of a periscope or by turning the aircraft to look out of a side window. A Wright Whirlwind J-5C engine supplied the power.

Charles Lindbergh (in fedora) and a mechanic check out the Spirit of St. Louis’ engine circa 1927. (Library of Congress)
Charles Lindbergh (in fedora) and a mechanic check out the Spirit of St. Louis’ engine circa 1927. (Library of Congress)

Late in April 1927 the work on the aircraft was completed. It was painted silver and carried registration number N-X-21 1, which, with all other lettering on the plane, was painted in black. Lindbergh made several test flights, and then flew the aircraft from San Diego to New York on May 10—12, making only one stop, at St. Louis. His flight time of 21 hours, 40 minutes set a new transcontinental record.

After waiting several days in New York for favorable weather, Lindbergh took off for Paris alone, on the morning of May 20, 1927. Thirty-three hours, 30 minutes, and 3,610 miles later he landed safely at Le Bourget Field, near Paris, where he was greeted by a wildly enthusiastic crowd of 100,000.

Lindbergh and the Spirit of St Louis returned to the United States aboard the USS Memphis on June 11. He received tumultuous welcomes in Washington, DC and New York City. From July 20 until October 23 of that year he took the famous plane on a tour of the United States. Then, on December 13, he and the Spirit of St. Louis flew nonstop from Washington to Mexico City; through Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico; and nonstop from Havana to St. Louis. Beginning in Mexico City, flags of the countries he visited were painted on both sides of the cowling.

Nose of the Spirit of St Louis
Nose of the Spirit of St Louis
Amelia Earhart's Lockheed 5B Vega
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 5B Vega

Amelia Earhart is probably the most famous female pilot in aviation history, an accolade due both to her aviation career and to her mysterious disappearance. On May 20-21, 1932, Earhart became the first woman, and the second person after Charles Lindbergh, to fly nonstop and solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Flying a red Lockheed Vega 5B, she left Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, Canada, and landed about 15 hours later near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The feat made Earhart an instant worldwide sensation and proved she was a courageous and able pilot. Then, on August 24-25, she made the first solo, nonstop flight by a woman across the United States, from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, establishing a women’s record of 19 hours and 5 minutes and setting a women’s distance record of 2,447 miles.

Born in Atchison, Kansas, on July 24, 1897, Amelia Earhart displayed an independent style from childhood, including keeping a scrapbook on accomplished women, taking an auto repair course, and attending college (but never graduating). She attended her first flying exhibition in 1918 while serving as a Red Cross nurse’s aide in Toronto, Canada. She took her first flight in California in December 1920, with veteran flyer Frank Hawks, and declared, “As soon as I left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly.” Her first instructor was Anita “Neta” Snook who gave her lessons in a Curtiss Jenny. To pay for flight lessons, Earhart worked as a telephone company clerk and photographer. Earhart soloed in 1921, bought her first airplane, a Kinner Airster, in 1922 and wasted no time in setting a women’s altitude record of 14,000 feet. In 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to receive an official Fédération Aéronautique Internationale pilot license.

Earhart moved to east to be near her sister and mother, and, after a second year at Columbia University in New York City, began working in Boston at the Denison Settlement House as a social worker with immigrant families. In the spring of 1928, she was flying at Dennison Airport, and had joined the local National Aeronautic Association, when she was offered the opportunity of a lifetime: to become the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger.

Amy Phipps Guest owned the Fokker F.VII Friendship and wanted to make the flight but when her family objected, she asked aviator Richard Byrd and publisher/publicist George Putnam to find “the right sort of girl” for the trip. On June 17, 1928, Earhart and pilots Wilmer Stultz and Lou Gordon departed Trepassey, Newfoundland and, though promised time at the controls of the tri-motor, she was never given the opportunity to fly the aircraft during the 20-hour 40-minute flight to Burry Point, Wales. She did get in the pilot’s seat for a time on the final hop to Southampton, England.

The dramatic 1928 flight brought her international attention and the opportunity to earn a living in aviation. Putnam became her manager and she began lecturing and writing on aviation around the country. In August of 1929, she placed third in the All-Women’s Air Derby, behind Louise Thaden and Gladys O’Donnell, which was the first transcontinental air race for women (from Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, Ohio) and a race she helped organize. This race, closely followed by the press and by the public who flocked to the stops along the way, proved that women could fly in rugged and competitive conditions.

A few months after the Derby, a group of women pilots decided to form an organization for social, recruitment, and business purposes. Ninety-nine women, out of 285 licensed US female pilots, became charter members, inspiring the organization’s name, The Ninety-Nines (99s); Earhart became their first president. Female pilots were keenly aware of the lack of social and economic independence for all women and were determined to help one another.

In 1930, after only 15 minutes of instruction, Earhart became the first woman to fly an autogiro, made by Pitcairn and featuring rotating blades to increase lift and allow short takeoffs and landings. Earhart set the first autogiro altitude record and made two autogiro cross-country tours, which were marked by three public “crack-ups”, as she called them. Though Earhart was the most famous woman pilot, she was not the most skilled.

Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega 5B
Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5B

Determined to prove herself, Earhart decided to fly the Atlantic Ocean again, but this time alone. She thought a transatlantic flight would bring her respect, something other women sought, too – Ruth Nichols made an attempt in 1931, crashing in Canada, but she was planning another attempt when Earhart succeeded. During her 2,026-mile nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic on May 20-21, 1932, Earhart fought fatigue, a leaky fuel tank, and a cracked manifold that spewed flames out the side of the engine cowling. Ice formed on the Vega’s wings and caused an unstoppable 3,000-foot descent to just above the waves. Realizing she was on a course far north of France, she landed in a farmer’s field in Culmore, near Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Acclaimed in London, Paris and Rome, she returned home to a ticker tape parade in New York City and honors in Washington, DC. By July and August she was back in the Vega for her transcontinental flight.

On January 11-12, 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the US mainland, this time in a Lockheed 5C Vega. Although some called it a publicity stunt for Earhart and Hawaiian sugar plantation promoters, it was a dangerous 2,408-mile flight that had already claimed several lives. Of that flight she remarked: “I wanted the flight just to contribute. I could only hope one more passage across that part of the Pacific would mark a little more clearly the pathway over which an air service of the future will inevitably ply.” Later that year, Earhart made record flights from Los Angeles to Mexico City and from Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey. She also placed fifth in the 1935 Bendix Race. Earhart was a two-time Harmon Trophy winner and was also the recipient of the US Distinguished Flying Cross.

In 1935, Earhart became a visiting professor at Purdue University at the invitation of Purdue president Edward Elliott, an advocate of higher education for women, especially in engineering and science. Earhart, a former premedical student, served as a counselor for women and a lecturer in aeronautics. Elliott was also interested in supporting Earhart’s flying career and convinced Purdue benefactors to purchase a twin-engine Lockheed 10-E Electra for her. Many companies contributed their latest aviation technology to her Flying Laboratory.

Earhart decided to make a world flight and she planned a route as close to the equator as possible, which meant flying several long overwater legs to islands in the Pacific Ocean. On March 20, 1937, Earhart crashed on takeoff at Luke Field, Honolulu, Hawaii, ending her westbound world flight that had begun at Oakland, California. The Electra was returned to Lockheed Aircraft Company in Burbank, California, for extensive repairs. On June 1, 1937, Earhart began an eastbound around-the-world flight from Oakland, via Miami, Florida, in the Electra with Fred Noonan as her navigator. They reached Lae, New Guinea on June 29, having flown 22,000 miles with 7,000 more to go to Oakland. They then departed Lae on July 2 for the 2,556-mile flight to their next refueling stop, Howland Island, a two-mile long and less-than-a-mile wide dot in the Pacific Ocean.

Unfortunately, due to various circumstances, Earhart and the US Coast Guard cutter Itasca, anchored off shore of Howland, could not complete any direct two-way radio communication and neither Earhart nor Noonan were competent at Morse Code. However, the Itasca did receive several strong voice transmissions from Earhart as she approached the area, the last at 8:43am stating: “We are on the line of position 156-137. Will repeat message. We will repeat this message on 6210 kilocycles. Wait. Listening on 6210 kilocycles. We are running north and south.” Earhart and Noonan never found Howland and they were declared lost at sea on July 19, 1937 following a massive sea and air search.

Earhart’s disappearance spawned countless theories involving radio problems, poor communication, navigation or pilot skills, other landing sites, spy missions and imprisonment, and even living quietly in New Jersey or on a rubber plantation in the Philippines. The most reasonable explanation, based on the known facts of her flight, is that they were unable to locate Howland Island, ran out of fuel, and ditched into the Pacific Ocean.

Earhart’s disappearance remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the 20th century, and it often overshadows her true legacies as a courageous and dedicated aviator and as an enduring inspiration to women.

Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990 from Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-31 mission. It is the largest astronomical telescope ever sent into space. It will be joined by James Webb Space Telescope in 2018, which will be 100 times more potent than Hubble, but it will have big shoes to fill!

From its vantage point high above Earth’s obscuring atmosphere, the telescope is providing astronomers with fascinating new information on the state of the universe. Astronomers are astounded at the Hubble Space Telescope’s recent observation of the farthest galaxy ever seen – one dating back 13.4 billion years, to just 400 million years after the Big Bang. Scientists thought they would have to wait until the James Webb Space Telescope starts operations to see this far back.

The distant galaxy was 25 times smaller than the Milky Way 13.4 billion years ago, but it expanding fast, forming stars at a rate about 20 times faster than the Milky Way does today.

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have measured the distance to the farthest galaxy ever seen -- Galaxy GN-z11. The galaxy is in the inset.
Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have measured the distance to the farthest galaxy ever seen – Galaxy GN-z11. The galaxy is in the inset.

The Hubble Space Telescope was designed to be delivered into orbit by the Space Shuttle and to be serviced periodically in space by Shuttle astronauts. The first servicing and repair mission was conducted in 1993 by the crew of STS-61 on Space Shuttle Endeavour.

The first servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope saw astronauts install a set of specialized lenses to correct the flawed main mirror in the telescope. NASA Photograph
The first servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope saw astronauts install a set of specialized lenses to correct the flawed main mirror in the telescope. NASA Photograph

Soon after the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, images and data from its instruments revealed that its main mirror was optically flawed. It suffered from spherical aberration — not all portions of the mirror focused to the same point. The mirror’s shape was off by less than 1/50th the thickness of a human hair, but this tiny flaw proved devastating to the quality of the Hubble’s images and to the efficiency of all of its instruments.

This was a serious, but not fatal flaw. If the Hubble was like all other astronomical instruments lofted into orbit on rockets, it would have had to live out its operational life with that flaw, working at a fraction of peak efficiency. But Hubble was not like any other space telescope. It was designed to be serviced by astronauts visiting it on the space shuttle. That’s one reason why it was placed in a low earth orbit accessible by the shuttle.

The question now became, how could corrections be made? One option involved bringing it back to Earth and replacing the mirror with a backup (now on view in the museum). But NASA, encouraged by the expertise at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the Ball Aerospace Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, chose a different approach. One instrument, the Wide-Field/Planetary Camera (WF/PC), already had an upgraded replacement available. Its engineering and science team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory knew how to adjust the optics within WFPC2 to compensate for the aberration in the primary mirror. For the other instruments, engineers created an optical box called COSTAR (Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement). It contained a set of five pairs of small mirrors on deployable arms that corrected the light beams entering the Hubble’s Faint Object Camera, Faint Object Spectrograph, and Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph. Fitted within a standard axial instrument enclosure, the small mirrors would deploy after launch and checkout, enter the reflected optical beam from the main mirror, and counteract its flaw, sending the corrected light to the other instruments.

Front and center is the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) tilted on a wedge to reveal its inner components. To the left is COSTAR and behind COSTAR is a developmental model built at the Ball Aerospace Corporation to demonstrate how COSTAR employed mirrors on stalks that could be inserted into the primary light beam from Hubble's flawed mirror, to correct the flaw. On the wall at the back are classic images from Hubble's cameras, and the Structural Dynamic Test Vehicle used to test the Hubble design is seen at the upper right. NASM Photograph
Front and center is the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) tilted on a wedge to reveal its inner components. To the left is COSTAR and behind COSTAR is a developmental model built at the Ball Aerospace Corporation to demonstrate how COSTAR employed mirrors on stalks that could be inserted into the primary light beam from Hubble’s flawed mirror, to correct the flaw. On the wall at the back are classic images from Hubble’s cameras, and the Structural Dynamic Test Vehicle used to test the Hubble design is seen at the upper right. NASM Photograph

After several more servicing missions through the 1990s, all the new instruments onboard Hubble had their own corrections for the flaw in the main mirror. Therefore COSTAR was no longer needed, and, given the rapid advance of solid state detector technologies through the decade, WFPC2 was no longer state of the art. NASA therefore planned another servicing mission to replace them with new more powerful cameras and detectors. But the shock of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in February 2003 was deeply felt worldwide, making NASA cautious about flights that did not go to the International Space Station. Therefore, in 2004 NASA cancelled Hubble’s fourth servicing mission. Without it, the telescope’s life was projected to end by 2007. The decision incited uproar from scientists, the public, and Congress. Twenty-six former astronauts signed a petition in favour of keeping the Hubble alive. The fifth and final Hubble servicing mission took place in May 2009 and was the most complex and demanding yet. During five spacewalks, Atlantis astronauts installed two new instruments, repaired two others, and performed extensive maintenance. They removed COSTAR and WFPC2 and installed the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which included greatly upgraded CCDs and some important reusable hardware from the original WF/PC.

Astronauts brought the two old instruments back to Earth and they were soon shipped to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland. Technicians at Goddard and then at the Johnson Space Center examined WFPC2 for effects from prolonged exposure to space. Its radiator, the curved white section that formed part of the Hubble’s outer skin, absorbed more than 15 years’ worth of impacts by micrometeoroids and orbital space debris. Scientists measured the chemical composition of these small impactors to help shed light on the nature of space debris, a danger that affects all space missions. In order to make the analysis, NASA had to core out all the impacts, cutting holes far larger than the debris itself. That’s why there are so many large holes in the image of the radiator below.

The radiator section (rear end) of WFPC2.  After over 15 years of exposure to space, this surface became a record of the accumulation of debris in low earth orbit.
The radiator section (rear end) of WFPC2. After over 15 years of exposure to space, this surface became a record of the accumulation of debris in low earth orbit.

A number of artefacts are on permanent display throughout the museum that relate to Hubble, such as the Hubble Space Telescope Structural Dynamic Test Vehicle in the Space Race gallery, which has been at the museum in Washington since 1989. This full-sized test vehicle served as a frame on which the cables and wiring harnesses for the actual spacecraft were fabricated. It was also used for simulations in developing maintenance and repair activities in orbit. “Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity” is also on display at the museum until June 8. This exhibition examines the history of spacewalks, including those done to service Hubble.

Hubble Space Telescope Structural Dynamic Test Vehicle
Hubble Space Telescope Structural Dynamic Test Vehicle

Prior to undertaking construction of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) the Lockheed Missile and Space Company built a full-scale mockup in 1975 for conducting various feasibility studies. Initially a low-fidelity metal cylinder for testing handling procedures for the proposed spacecraft, the test vehicle evolved continuously as Lockheed proceeded through its feasibility studies and was awarded the contract to build the actual spacecraft. The test vehicle eventually served as a frame on which the cables and wiring harnesses for the actual spacecraft were fabricated. It was also used for simulations in developing maintenance and repair activities in orbit. Dynamic studies on the test vehicle including vibration studies and thermal studies led to its being designated the Hubble Space Telescope Structural Dynamic Test Vehicle (SDTV).

The test vehicle has been refurbished twice. For an earlier exhibit, the Museum restored its configuration for structural dynamic tests. In 1996 thermal blankets, antennas, and other features were added to depict the telescope’s appearance in space.

Hubble Space Telescope, 1:5 Scale Model
Hubble Space Telescope, 1:5 Scale Model

The 1:5 scale model of the Hubble Space Telescope was fabricated by the Lockheed Missile and Space Company, the contractor responsible for building the flight spacecraft. The model depicts the exterior shell of the spacecraft as well as the exterior assemblies required for its operation. Prominent features on the model include the light shield and aperture door and the two wing-like solar arrays which flank the main tubular assembly. This is one of four scale models of the Hubble Space Telescope in the museum collection. The model was donated to the museum by the Lockheed Company in August 1983.

Westerlund 2 — Hubble’s 25th anniversary image. NASA/ESA Photograph
Westerlund 2 — Hubble’s 25th anniversary image. NASA/ESA Photograph
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

After Apollo and especially Apollo 11, the American human spaceflight program moved toward new, less ambitious goals. For many citizens landing on the Moon ended the space race and diminished support for expensive programs of human space exploration. Advocates of exploration expected the Apollo missions to be the beginning of an era in which humans would move out into space, to bases on the Moon and space stations in Earth orbit, perhaps on to Mars. Others questioned whether costly human spaceflight should continue at all, now that the race was won.

This shift in public and political sentiment resulted in a modest program of human space activity — compared to the hey-day of the lunar landings. As the last lunar mission, Apollo 17, was completed in 1972, the nation settled in for a quieter era of space exploration. Two programs, using leftover Apollo rockets and spacecraft no longer need for moon journeys, symbolized this new era: Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

In July 1975 two manned spacecraft were launched into Earth orbit – one from Kazakstan, the other from Florida. Their rendezvous in orbit fulfilled a 1972 agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States to participate in a joint venture in space.

The Apollo-Soyuz Test Project marked a brief thaw in the Cold War and the first time that the two rivals cooperated in a manned space mission. Engineering teams from both sides collaborated in the development of a docking module to link the spacecraft. Control centers in Moscow and Houston exercised joint duties through a cooperative exchange of tracking data and communications. The crews visited each other’s spacecraft, shared meals, and worked on various tasks during several days together in space. Apollo commander Thomas P. Stafford and Soyuz-19 commander Aleksei A. Leonov greeted each other for the first time in space with a handshake. This mission was meant to symbolize the end of competition and the beginning of an era of cooperation in space.

Apollo commander Thomas P. Stafford (right) and Soyuz-19 commander Aleksei A. Leonov (left)
Apollo commander Thomas P. Stafford (right) and Soyuz-19 commander Aleksei A. Leonov (left)

Skylab, an experimental habitat built from the third-stage of a Saturn V, the first American space station. In an era of lower space budgets and waning public interest, it was only intended as a temporary, not a permanent, home in space. Skylab was occupied by astronauts only three times over 1973 and 1974.

Skylab Orbital Workshop
Skylab Orbital Workshop

The orbital workshop is the largest component of Skylab, America’s first space station. It houses the living quarters, work and storage areas, research equipment, and most of the supplies needed to support a succession of three-man crews. Two complete Skylab space stations were manufactured and equipped for flight, and one was launched into Earth orbit in May 1973. After the Skylab program was cancelled as effort shifted to Space Shuttle development, NASA transferred the backup Skylab to the National Air and Space Museum in 1975. On display in the Museum’s Space Hall since 1976, the orbital workshop has been slightly modified to permit viewers to walk through the living quarters.

Skylab 4 Command Module
Skylab 4 Command Module

This Apollo command module is identical to those used during the Apollo Program. It was used to ferry the crew of the last Skylab mission, astronauts Gerald P. Carr, Edward G. Gibson, and William R. Pogue, to the Skylab Orbital Workshop and back to Earth again. The Skylab 4 crew lived in the Skylab for 84 days, from Nov. 16, 1973 to Feb. 8, 1974. The crew performed numerous experiments and demonstrated that humans can live and work in space for long periods of time.

Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, successful and significant undertakings, seemed a quiet conclusion to Apollo, arguably the boldest and most dramatic adventure in history.

The museum has plenty of artefacts from that adventure.

Surveyor Lunar Lander
Surveyor Lunar Lander

The artefact in the collection is an engineering model, S-10, used for thermal control tests. It was reconfigured to represent a flight model of Surveyor 3 or later, since it was the first to have a scoop and claw surface sampler. After receipt in 1968 it was displayed in Smithsonian’s Arts & Industries Building and then was moved to its present location in Gallery 112, Lunar Exploration Vehicles, in 1976.

The Surveyor series was designed to carry out soft landings on the Moon and provide data about its surface and possible atmosphere. These were the first U.S. probes to soft-land on the Moon. Once landed they provided detailed pictures of the surface by means of a TV camera carried on each of the spacecraft. Later Surveyors carried the instrumented soil mechanics surface scoop seen on the artefact. These were used to study the mechanical properties of lunar soil. Some of the spacecraft were also equipped to perform simple chemical analyses on lunar soil by means of alpha particle scattering. There were seven Surveyor launches starting in May, 1966, all launched by the Atlas-Centaur rocket. All but two successfully achieved program goals returning over 88,000 high resolution photographs and invaluable detailed data on the nature and strength of the lunar surface.

Lunar Orbiter, Engineering Mock-up
Lunar Orbiter, Engineering Mock-up

Lunar Orbiter was the project that mapped the Moon in preparation for the Apollo landings. A total of five Lunar Orbiters were flown to the Moon. They were built for NASA’s Langley Research Center by Boeing and launched to the Moon on Atlas-Agena rockets. The first three orbited around the Moon’s equator and provided detailed photographic coverage of the primary Apollo landing sites, including stereo images. Because of the success of these earlier missions, the final two Lunar Orbiters were placed into a polar orbit so that virtually the entire surface of the Moon was mapped. In addition to images of the Apollo landing sites, Lunar Orbiter provided many breathtaking photographs, including features on the farside.

In addition to the near global photographic coverage of the Moon, Lunar Orbiter provided additional information that aided Apollo. Sensors on board indicated that radiation levels near the Moon would pose no danger to the astronauts. Analysis of the spacecraft orbits found evidence of gravity perturbations, which suggested that the Moon was not gravitationally uniform. Instead it appeared as if buried concentrations of mass were under the mare deposits. By discovering and defining these “mascons,” Lunar Orbiter made it possible for the Apollo missions to conduct highly accurate landings and precision rendezvous.

After depleting their film supplies, all five Lunar Orbiters were purposely crashed onto the Moon to prevent their radio transmitters from interfering with future spacecraft.

Apollo Lunar Module no 2
Apollo Lunar Module no 2

The Apollo Lunar Module (LM) was a two-stage vehicle designed by Grumman to ferry two astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back. The upper ascent stage consisted of a pressurized crew compartment, equipment areas, and an ascent rocket engine. The lower descent stage had the landing gear and contained the descent rocket engine and lunar surface experiments.

LM 2 was built for a second unmanned Earth-orbit test flight. Because the test flight of LM 1, named Apollo 5, was so successful, a second mission was deemed unnecessary. LM-2 was used for ground testing prior to the first successful Moon-landing mission. In 1970 the ascent stage of LM-2 spent several months on display at the “Expo ’70” in Osaka, Japan. When it returned to the United States, it was reunited with its descent stage, modified to appear like the Apollo 11 Lunar Module “Eagle”, and transferred to the Smithsonian for display.

Clementine Engineering Model
Clementine Engineering Model

Clementine was built by the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. to test lightweight instruments and components for the next generation of spacecraft. It was designed to complete a two-month mapping mission in orbit around the Moon and then fly past an asteroid. Like the miner’s daughter in the song, “My Darlin’ Clementine”, its instruments would help determine the mineral content of these objects and then be “lost and gone forever”. Remarkably, Clementine went from the drawing board and into space in less than two years with a cost of under 100 million dollars, thus introducing the era of “faster, better, cheaper” spacecraft. Although its attempt at flying past an asteroid failed, Clementine provided answers to many of the questions about the Moon that remained from the Apollo era of lunar exploration. This engineering model was transferred from the Naval Research Laboratory to the museum in 2002.

Model of OV-102 Columbia and the Shuttle "stack" poised for launch on the mobile launch platform and crawler transporter
1:15 Model of OV-102 Columbia and the Shuttle “stack” poised for launch on the mobile launch platform and crawler transporter

This model represents the final Space Shuttle design that emerged from NASA-industry studies in 1969-1972. This design was selected as the best combination of a reusable orbiter, a disposable external tank, and two recoverable solid rocket boosters after it became evident that a completely reusable system would be too large and too costly. The model depicts the orbiter Columbia and the Shuttle “stack” poised for launch on the mobile launch platform and crawler transporter. Rockwell International, Space Shuttle prime contractor, presented this model to the Museum shortly after the first mission in 1981.

Model of OV-102 Columbia and the Shuttle "stack" poised for launch on the mobile launch platform and crawler transporter
1:15 Model of OV-102 Columbia and the Shuttle “stack” poised for launch on the mobile launch platform and crawler transporter

Little Puffles and Honey could not leave the museum without saying hello to Buzz! And Magellan T. Bear!

With Buzz Lightyear and Magellan T. Bear
With Buzz Lightyear and Magellan T. Bear

Buzz Lightyear flew to the International Space Station in 2008 through an educational initiative developed by NASA with Disney•Pixar, as part of NASA’s broader “Toys in Space” project. Buzz flew aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery twice (up on STS-124 and down on STS-128) and spent 15 months aboard the ISS. Puffles and Honey saw Discovery at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the second site of the National Air and Space Museum.

Buzz Lightyear on the ISS
Buzz Lightyear on the ISS
Buzz Lightyear on orbit with fellow crewmembers Greg Chamitoff and Mike Finke. NASA Photograph
Buzz Lightyear on orbit with fellow crewmembers Greg Chamitoff and Mike Finke. NASA Photograph

Magellan T. Bear, manufactured by the North American Bear Company, became the first official teddy bear in space, flying as the “education specialist” aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-63 mission in February 1995. The bear’s journey was part of an ambitious educational project to stimulate interest in geography, science and social studies. Students and faculty of Elk Creek Elementary School in Pine, Colorado, worked with NASA and Spacehab to have the teddy bear certified for spaceflight. The school also arranged for the bear to fly around the world, visit the South Pole, fly on United Airlines’ first Boeing 777 flight, and attend US Space Camp.

Ok, one more hello to some beary friends 🙂

With beary friends
With beary friends

Something little Puffles and Honey did not see is the Enterprise Model from Star Trek The Original Series. It went back on display, after an intensive restoration program, after their visit.

Star Trek Original Series Enterprise Model
Star Trek Original Series Enterprise Model
Star Trek Original Series Enterprise Model
Star Trek Original Series Enterprise Model

3 thoughts on “National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s