Top Five Stories of 2017

Posted on Wed, December 20, 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, let’s revisit some of our favorite stories of the year: stories of solar eclipses, scientific women, the Spitfire, and spacecraft. 

  1. Five Things to Know About the Spitfire, the Legend of Dunkirk

    Three-quarter right front view from above of Supermarine Spitfire HF.Mk.VII in flight during a wartime test flight over Ohio. This high altitude version of the Spitfire, RAF code EN474, is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum. Tail of photographer's aircraft visible at top foreground.

    Did you know that the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum houses examples of two of the main airplanes featured in Christopher Nolan's 2017 film, Dunkirk? We have a Royal Air Force (RAF) Supermarine Spitfire and a Messerschmitt Bf 109 of the Luftwaffe, although the Museum’s aircraft are slightly younger than those that participated in Operation Dynamo.
  2. Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures, and John Glenn’s Flight
    Movie Poster

    Part of the poster from the 2016-17 movie Hidden Figures

    The flight of Friendship 7  gained new resonance this year thanks to the movie Hidden Figures. Curator Michael Neufeld examined the movie through the lens of a space historian.
  3. Hidden Figures and Human Computers
    Black and white photo of human computers sitting at an event.

    This photo, donated by B. Golemba to the Langley Research Center, shows a few of the institution's human computers. Human computers were often women who helped to crunch data before the wide-spread use of electronic computers. Left to Right: Dorothy Vaughan, Lessie Hunter, Vivian Adair (Margaret Ridenhour and Charlotte Craidon in back).

    The breakout movie Hidden Figures told the story of three African American women who worked as mathematicians at NASA. The story sheds light on the significant contributions of the three women—Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson—but also the broader impact that women had behind the scenes at NASA.
  4. A Closer Look at the Friendship 7 Spacecraft
    heat shield from Friendship 7 capsule

    Heat shield from the Mercury Friendship 7 capsule.

    In 2017, the Museum shared new photographs of Mercury Friendship 7 following its conservation. This is the same spacecraft that John Glenn piloted into Earth orbit, an American first. The images reveal details of the spacecraft that can be easy to overlook when taking the capsule in as a whole.
  5. The Death of a King, End to a War, and the Solar Eclipse
    A Solar Eclipse

    An image of a solar eclipse. 

    On August 21, 2017, people across the United States turned to the sky, eclipse glasses in place, to witness a total solar eclipse. Eclipses have occurred throughout history and some have fascinating stories associated with them. In this blog post, we explore two such compelling tales.