Not to be upstaged by the balloonist Jacques Alexandre César Charles, who launched the first hydrogen balloon in on August 1783, the brothers Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier sent a sheep, a duck, and a rooster aloft in a wicker cage dangling beneath a hot air balloon. The flight took place on September 19, 1783, before an enormous crowd, including the Royal family, gathered in front of the royal Palace of Versailles.
The balloon was a product of the scientific revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries. Early modern experimenters like the Englishman Robert Boyle, studied the physics of the atmosphere. By the 18th century the focus shifted to the discovery of the constituent gases that make up the atmosphere. Early plans for flying machines inspired by the new discoveries were impractical, but quickly gave way to the first real balloons.
As 2016 draws to a close, we take a look back at the highs and lows of the year. It was a busy year for the Museum with the opening of new exhibitions and celebrating our 40th anniversary. Most importantly, we were glad we could share the year with you, our fellow aerospace enthusiasts. Did you have a favorite moment from 2016? Let us know @airandspace.
Over the last year, we’ve shared more than 160 stories with you on our blog, and now featured prominently on our website. What were your favorites? According to our calculations, stories about Star Trek tipped the scales, but a few other topics squeezed their way onto our list. For 2016, here are our 10 most popular stories.
How did you become a pilot for the SR-71 Blackbird? Buzz Carpenter knows. He started flying the SR-71 in 1975 after a week-long interview process that included an astronaut physical. Buzz shares what it was like becoming a Blackbird pilot, how pilots used their 580-degree windows to heat up their lunches, and how the aircraft got the nickname Habu.
There are many ways to find information about the collections held by the National Air and Space Museum Archives. There are finding aids with box and folder listings for over 100 collections. We are providing access to more and more of our scrapbooks and photographs. And while we archivists would like to believe that we know everything about everything in the National Air and Space Museum collections, the truth is, with over 17,000 cubic feet of documents, we are frequently discovering, or, should we say, rediscovering items in our collections. The stories behind some of these finds are fascinating!
December 17 marks the date of the first flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903. As part of the 46th anniversary festivities in 1949, the Air Force Association (AFA) arranged for Colonel Thomas Lanphier to fly around the world on American commercial airlines, demonstrating the efficiency of American airlines and emphasizing the rapid growth of aviation technology in the years since the first flight at Kitty Hawk.
Today, on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Curator Laurence Burke took a step back and explored the long and complicated history that led up to the Japanese attack.
Burke, to an audience outside the Museum’s Sea-Air Operations gallery, said the story of Pearl Harbor often focuses on the events of December 7, 1941, but not what happened before the day that President Roosevelt called, “a date which will live in infamy.”
To understand Pearl Harbor, Burke took the audience back to 1853-1854 when U.S. Naval Captain Matthew C. Perry sailed to Japan and negotiated the opening of Japanese ports for trade. After more than 200 years of self-imposed isolation, Japan wanted to engage with the rest of the world.
In 1876, after the dust from the United States’ first World’s Fair and Centennial Exposition settled on the grounds of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, the Smithsonian Institution’s collections expanded exponentially. Sixty boxcars filled with art, mechanical inventions, and other materials from many of the 37 countries who participated in the Exposition pulled into Washington, DC as gifts for a brand new museum.
The year 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the “Escadrille Américaine” or the Lafayette Escadrille. Created on December 6, 1916, the Escadrille (or “squadron”) holds a unique place both in the history of World War I (1914-1918) and in the history of aviation overall. Most notably, the Escadrille was composed of American volunteers who chose to fight for France a year before the United States’ official entry into the Great War in April 1917.