The National Air and Space Museum’s new look at the technology that helped build our global village.
On June 25, 1967, the Beatles debuted “All You Need Is Love” for a worldwide audience, live from London. Flowers filled the room as friends surrounding the musicians—including the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards—sang along: “Love is all you need, love is all you need.” Giant balloons mimicking planets seemingly bounced to the tune. Confetti rained down on the band.
Communication satellites beamed the scene to dozens of nations as part of the BBC’s “Our World” television program. To create the first multi-satellite international live broadcast in history, the BBC orchestrated a team of 10,000 technicians and producers based in 14 countries using four satellites and nearly a million miles of undersea cables. The Beatles’ song, written for the occasion, echoed the show’s theme about humanity sharing similar problems and dreams. Additional segments, broadcast from every corner of the world in 22 languages, evoked the sense of a “global village” thanks to satellite technology. A flight spare of one of the satellites—an Intelsat II—will hang in the new One World Connected gallery at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
The new exhibition explores how aviation and spaceflight fostered two momentous changes in everyday life: the ease in communicating and traveling across vast distances and a new perspective of Earth as humanity’s singular home. The gallery also imagines how these technological developments might continue to impact our near future.
One World Connected will be anchored by several artifacts from the Museum’s vast collection. As visitors enter the gallery, they’ll see two icons of aviation: the Friendship Flame Beechcraft 35 Bonanza, manufactured in 1947, and a 1970s-era CFM56-2 turbofan engine. Each artifact personifies the central role of flight in accelerating the global circulation of people, commerce, and culture.
In 1951, Congressman Peter F. Mack Jr. flew the Friendship Flame—the “Cadillac” of single-engine light airplanes—on a round-the-world goodwill tour, visiting 45 major cities in 35 countries. He met ordinary citizens and dignitaries, promoting peaceful dialogue. Not only did the flight earn him the nickname the “Flying Congressman,” it also earned him the distinction of making the first solo flight across the Pacific Ocean.
Years later, worldwide travel would become more common with the commercial use of powerful jet engines, which scaled up speed and made flight more accessible. The CFM56-2 turbofan engine represents the family of engines that became the most widely-used jet engine design in commercial aviation.
In addition to documenting aviation milestones, One World Connected shows how viewing Earth from space has evolved. The gallery includes Earth-centric artwork by Chesley Bonestell and a Hasselblad camera like the one Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders used to capture Earthrise, a photograph that became a profound symbol of humanity and Earth’s place in the cosmos. Earthrise, along with other photography taken from space, has enabled us to see our world with no apparent national borders, emphasizing our shared humanity. The famous image also reveals our home planet’s scale, fragility, and uniqueness, which has inspired a sense of responsibility to act on its behalf. In the gallery, artworks by Apollo astronaut Alan Bean and others capture this newfound sensibility.
One World Connected continues its examination of how we view Earth from space by recreating the cupola from the International Space Station (ISS). Since 2010, astronauts aboard the ISS have made scientific observations of Earth through its cupola windows, from tracking weather events to monitoring atmospheric activity. In the gallery, the domed observatory’s seven windows will feature film and audio recorded by ISS astronauts for the Smithsonian Institution.
The view from space has affected how we appreciate Earth, and it has also brought opportunities to study and predict the weather and see the effects of humanity’s hand on the environment. Today, satellites with cameras and sensors let us see and study an evolving planet—on a vast scale and in fine detail. The result is a better understanding of how Earth functions and how our actions impact the land, water, air, and climate. Artifacts from the Cray-1 supercomputer used to model the behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere to an engineering model of the Stratospheric Aerosol Measurement II instrument help tell the story.
By the 1990s, more and more people were able to connect globally. Technology broadened our horizons—through cellphones, the internet, satellite radio, long-distance air travel, and global positioning systems. These developments shape the routines of daily life. A flight spare of a Sirius FM-4 communications satellite, standing over 16-feet tall, represents the first generation of space-based, commercial radio service. When Sirius Radio (later Sirius XM Radio) started broadcasting to North America, listeners could stay tuned to their favorite programs no matter where they traveled. Similarly, making international phone calls changed radically with the development of communications satellites. Within their first two decades, satellites achieved farther reach, more capacity, and more flexibility than their only competitor—undersea telephone cables. An original Iridium satellite phone represents the reality of how no place on Earth is too remote for communications.
An enormous interactive globe sits at the center of the exhibition: It will provide an immersive experience to encourage visitors to start thinking about the major themes explored in the exhibit. Artwork that illustrates changing views of a globalized world will surround the interactive sphere. A team of photographers explored communities in different regions of the world, where they took portraits that represent the ways we connect to each other and to our planet.
Aerospace technology has accelerated global travel and communication and changed our understanding of weather and climate. The last section of the exhibition asks visitors to think about how a world of ever-increasing connection might shape our future—and their place in it.