When the National Air and Space Museum opened in 1976, the production model of the Starship Enterprise was prominently and dramatically displayed hanging at the entrance of “Life in the Universe” gallery. Later, when that gallery closed, and the starship was moved to several other locations within the museum.
When a colleague of ours, the curator of the model airplane collection, Tom Dietz, passed away recently, I was reminded of the time I spoke with him about two of the Museum’s model airplanes that I find most intriguing.
“I do not recall anyone else near my age giving tours or being turned loose to meet and greet the general public, ” he recalls, “ but it was a joy for me to share my enthusiasm with citizens from across the world, and turn their casual museum visits into a thrilling learning experience.”
Of course the designers also used digital computers, but in the 1960s computers were giant machines that you programmed with punched cards, and they were strictly reserved for only the most complex mathematical calculations. As the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission approaches, we are constantly reminded of how incredible that voyage was.
Looking elegant but a bit bulky, Lieutenant Gilbert L. Meyers of the 35th Pursuit Squadron models his government issued flying ensemble: an A-8 oxygen mask, B-6 goggles, B-3 winter jacket, A-3 trousers, B-5 helmet, A-9 gloves, A-6 shoes, and S-1 harness.
On June 23, 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded ground access to West Berlin, at that time occupied by the United States, Great Britain, and France. All road, rail, and barge traffic was shut down. President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Lucius D. Clay, the American Military Governor of Germany, resolved to keep the city supplied by air. The resulting “Operation Vittles” – also known as the Berlin Airlift – was a massive combined effort of all the U.S. armed services and the Western powers.
On May 14, 1909, Alexander Graham Bell wrote to Charles D. Walcott, then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, detailing his plans to donate C. H. Claudy’s photographs of the Wright brothers’ 1908 Army Trials at Fort Myer, Virginia. The two page letter details the significance of the photos and his desire to have them perserved by the Smithsonian institution.
Last month, the National Air and Space Museum lost long-time employee, Tom Dietz. Tom began his time at the Museum in the late 1980s as an intern, and joined the permanent staff in 1989 as a museum specialist in the Aeronautics Division.
Flag Day is June 14 and it reminds me of one of the most famous "stars and stripes" in history -- the one left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 crew in 1969. I remember clearly that day when, as a teenager, I watched with my family as the flag was planted on the lunar surface. It brought chills to us all.