Every once in a while a curator will receive a new collection of objects that has in it one very special item that begs to have its story told. This recently happened to me when I unpacked Alan Eustace’s stratospheric spacesuit. The former Google executive and engineer, along with his StratEx team, set several records on October 24, 2014 including the world’s highest altitude parachute jump at 41.425 kilometers (135,899 feet).
For the last several years, we worked with the Arthur C. Clarke Trust to have the author’s papers donated to the Museum. One challenging factor was that the Trust and his papers sat in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Clarke’s home for most of his adult life. Legal and logistical issues abounded. But in Summer 2014, we reached a legal agreement. At the same time, we were fortunate to gain the support of FedEx to help us get Clarke’s collection safely from Sri Lanka to the U.S. In December, my colleague Patti Williams and I traveled to Colombo, welcomed by longtime Clarke associates Rohan de Silva and Hector Ekanayake. We assessed and boxed the collection, and with much help from FedEx’s world-wide team and transportation network, transferred Clarke’s life’s work to its new home in the Museum archives. It is now being conserved and processed, perhaps ready for use by researchers later this fall.
At the National Air and Space Museum, as elsewhere around the world, we were enormously saddened when we learned that Neil Alden Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the Moon, had died of complications associated with heart surgery in August 2012. Not long afterwards his family contacted the Museum about artifacts he left in his home office in Ohio. In November, Museum curators Margaret Weitekamp (social and cultural history of space exploration), Alex Spencer (personal aeronautical equipment), and I (as Apollo curator) traveled to Cincinnati and were warmly greeted by his widow, Carol.
The Museum’s Martin B-26B-25-MA Marauder Flak-Bait and its crews survived 207 operational missions over Europe, more than any other American aircraft during World War II. Recognizing that significance, the U.S. Army Air Forces saved it from destruction after the war.
In 1898, Walter Wellman led an attempt to reach the North Pole using ship and sledge via Franz Josef Land, a group of uninhabited Russian islands in the Arctic Ocean. A journalist who had already made an unsuccessful polar attempt in 1894, Wellman also hoped to discover what had become of Swedish explorer Salomon A. Andrée, who had attempted to reach the Pole via balloon in 1897. Many notable names provided funding for the expedition, including President William McKinley, Vice President Garret Hobart, J.P. Morgan, and William K. Vanderbilt. The expedition arrived at Franz Josef Land in July 1898 and built their headquarters, “Harmsworth House.” Wellman sent Evelyn B. Baldwin, a meteorologist with the United States Weather Bureau and a veteran of one of Robert Peary’s Greenland expeditions, ahead north to establish an outpost to be used in the spring for their push to the Pole.
There is a new display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport. Along the south wall of the James S. McDonnell Space Hanger, in a large storefront case, are the extravehicular (EV) gloves and visor that Neil Armstrong wore when he first stepped on the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969.
It's July 26, 1909, and President William Howard Taft (left) has arrived in his superb White Motor Company Model M Steamer at Fort Myer, just across the Potomac from Washington, to watch the Wright brothers' preparations for the trial flight of their Military Flyer. On the following day, Orville Wright would make a record flight of over an hour, covering approximately 40 miles. Sitting next to the President is Senator Jonathan Bourne Jr. of Oregon. Taft's military aide and good friend, Captain Archibald Willingham Butt, is standing in the car. Born in Augusta, Georgia in 1865, Archie (as everyone called him) Butt began his career as a reporter, then served as first secretary to the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. In 1900, Archie received a commission in the U.S. Army. He served in the Philippines for four years, and as Depot Quartermaster in Washington D.C. he met President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904.
When Disney•Pixar approached the National Air and Space Museum about donating the Buzz Lightyear figure that had flown to the International Space Station for 15 months, I was delighted. As the curator for the Museum’s social and cultural space artifacts, I have the unique job of getting to take toys seriously.
May 10 may ring a bell for fans of the 1970s television show The Six Million Dollar Man. On that day in 1967, a NASA research aircraft, the wingless M2-F2 lifting body, crashed in the California desert. A film clip of the crash opened the popular weekly show about the gravely injured fictional pilot, Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors.