News of Lenoard Nimoy’s passing was felt far and wide at the National Air and Space Museum. It may come as no surprise that many members of our staff—the same folks who have dedicated their careers to inspiring and educating the public about aerospace history—are also huge Star Trek fans. As we remember Nimoy’s legacy, we can’t help but recall our own experiences meeting the man and celebrating the series. In 1992, the Museum opened a temporary exhibition on Star Trek and cast and crew of the beloved show descended upon the Museum throughout its run. Two staff members, past and present, reflect on that experience.
All actors create characters. Some of these characters even achieve iconic status. However, what Leonard Nimoy created was legendary. Spock appeals to so many different people in so many different ways.
On April 1, 2014, the National Air and Space Museum opened an exhibition featuring the pressurized Red Bull Stratos gondola that carried Felix Baumgartner to a record altitude of 39,045 meters (128,100 feet) over Roswell, New Mexico, and the pressure suit and parachute that protected him during the long fall back to Earth. Not long after, I had a visit from an old friend, balloonist Julian Nott, whose record-setting pressurized hot air balloon gondola was also coming into the Museum’s collection. One of the pioneers of modern ballooning, Julian has established 79 world ballooning records for altitude, distance, and time aloft during a long and extraordinary career.
On September 17th, Museum staff participated in the international Ask a Curator Day on Twitter. People asked questions on topics ranging from how we select exhibitions to the most difficult object or display to maintain to the most unusual object in our collections. Here is a selection of those questions and answers.
On September 11, 2014, the studio model of the Star Trek starship Enterprise, which has been on public display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum since 1976, was removed for conservation in preparation for its new display location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, which will open in July 2016. The announcement of the artifact’s inclusion in the transformed Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall was made on April 3, 2014.
What was it like to witness a Space Shuttle launch or landing? For the Moving Beyond Earth (MBE) exhibition about the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and future human spaceflight, the team wanted to show how shuttle launches and landings became cultural experiences, not just technological events. Thousands of people gathered, often after having traveled great distances to do so. Many took pictures to record their presence at these historic events. What story would those snapshots tell?
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.
The National Air and Space Museum boasts an extraordinary collection of record setting balloon baskets and gondolas. There is Explorer II, which carried U.S. Army Air Corps Captains Albert W. Stevens and Orvil Anderson to a record altitude of (22,066 meters) 72,395 feet on November 11, 1935. In August 1978, Maxie Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman made the first balloon crossing of the Atlantic in Double Eagle II.