This summer, the world is marking the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest milestones in aerospace history, and one of the most remarkable of all human achievements—the first Moon landing by Apollo 11. But the summer of 2009 also marks another meaningful event in aerospace history. It is the centennial of military aviation.
When the Apollo 11 spacecraft lifted off on July 16, 1969, for the Moon, it signaled a climactic instance in human history. Reaching the Moon on July 20, its Lunar Module—with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard—landed on the lunar surface while Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Apollo 11 command module. Armstrong soon set foot on the surface, telling millions on Earth that it was “one small step for [a] man—one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin soon followed him out and the two planted an American flag but omitted claiming the land for the U.S. as had been routinely done during European exploration of the Americas, collected soil and rock samples, and set up scientific experiments. The next day they returned to the Apollo capsule overhead and returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
Regular summer visitors to the National Air and Space Museum are familiar with the Museum’s popular event, Mars Day. This year, Mars is taking a backseat to allow us to honor the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing with Countdown to the Moon Day.
What will the astronauts who return to the Moon with NASA’s Constellation program drive? I had a chance to find out last October as a member of NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) during the field test of the Lunar Electric Rover (LER) at Black Point lava flow in Arizona.
The Public Observatory Project (POP) is nearer to completion. We are in the process of installing a large professional Boller & Chivens telescope in a 22-foot dome that will be available for four hours each day (weather permitting) to view the Sun, Moon and planets from the east terrace of the Museum.
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.”