The afternoon of October 15, 2009 was one of those rare moments when Americans from coast-to-coast were riveted to their television sets by a news story unfolding in real time. Six year old Falcon Heene was reported to be trapped aboard a helium balloon floating across the Colorado landscape at 7000 feet. The image on the screen was surreal, a strange craft looking like a cross between a Mylar grocery store balloon and a flying saucer, with a small circular structure on the bottom that appeared to be just large enough to house a small child. When the balloon came naturally to earth after a fifty mile flight, however, the boy was not aboard.
The millions of visitors who pass through the doors of the National Air and Space Museum each year come to see the real thing, the actual air and space craft that shaped history – from the world’s first airplane to the back-up hardware for the latest robot spacecraft on its way to explore another world.