Last year I wrote about the Armstrong purse, discovered by Neil Armstrong’s widow, Carol, in their home shortly after Neil’s death in 2012. That stowage bag of small (but historically significant) items from the first lunar landing was a reminder that the story of Apollo 11 continues to be told as new details emerge in unexpected places. Recently, we have again been reminded that a curator’s work is never done. During the course of a project to produce a detailed 3D model of the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, we were able to observe and record some hand-written notes and markings in areas of the spacecraft that have been hidden from view for more than 40 years.
Through the history of aviation, pilots have worn many types of helmets. Exhibits at the National Air and Space Museum range from Paul Studenski's 1912 era leather flying helmet, to Apollo Soucek's furry helmet, to Mike Melvill's SpaceShipOne helmet. Today, however, in honor of Super Bowl 50, we will remember Robert "Bob" Eucker's football helmet.
The Museum has been tackling a variety of artifact treatments through its Collections Care and Preservation Fund (CCPF) Triage Project. The goal of the project is to stabilize artifacts as they are moved from the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility to state-of-the-art storage located at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The triage project addresses urgent issues affecting artifacts such as active corrosion, pest infestation, biological growth, and physical insecurities.
You may be surprised to know that in addition to the largest collection of authentic aviation- and space-related artifacts in the world, our Museum also has an impressive model collection. Our model collection contains more than 5,700 models of aircraft, balloons, and more. Nearly 1,100 of those models are on display at our Museum and the rest are in storage. Approximately 800 of those models share space with our staff on the third floor of the Museum in Washington, DC. But not for much longer. Last June, we began the time-consuming process of relocating the models from the third floor to storage at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The move was brought on by a multi-year project at the Museum in DC to upgrade the exterior of the building and the interior mechanical systems. Before construction begins, the models need to be moved. How do you relocate more than 800 delicate models?
It’s a tall order to sum up the past year at the National Air and Space Museum in a simple list. We’ve hosted astronauts and record breakers, we’ve moved and conserved dozens of artifacts as we transformed the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall (and discovered some incredible things in the process), and held programs that illuminated the impact of aviation and spaceflight on our everyday lives. Where would I even start? I propose a compromise: I’ll summarize ten of my favorite events of this past year, then I’m relying on you to suggest yours. Did you have an experience at the Museum this past year that should be on our list? We’re asking you to share your favorite Air and Space moments in the comments.
Today, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will officially open in our two IMAX theaters (and around the world). Our Airbus IMAX Theater at the Udvar-Hazy Center features one of the most advanced projection rooms in the world, with twin 4k laser projectors (always two, there are, for 3D presentations) and a 12-channel sound system. In a cinema not-so far, far away in downtown Washington, DC, our Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater will run Episode VII in IMAX’s original format: 70mm film. Star Wars will be the final 70mm feature shown at the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater before it too is converted to the state-of-the-art 4k laser system in mid-January. The IMAX empire was founded a long time ago (in the late 1960s) as an ultra-high resolution alternative to standard film. Our Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater (and the Museum) opened on July 1 1976. It wasn’t the first IMAX Theater in the nation, but it was close.
This past year, I had the opportunity to lead a largely volunteer team, with supervision from museum specialist Anne McCombs and curator David DeVorkin, on a major restoration project of the Museum’s Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM). The ATM we worked on was a backup to the one used in 1973 on the Skylab space station to study high-energy solar activity.
It’s not a typical afternoon at work when you answer the phone and hear, "Hey, Dr. Neal. It's Kjell Lindgren calling from the International Space Station." Thus began a 15-minute surprise call from the ISS Expedition 44-45 NASA astronaut. Lindgren just wanted to say that he had with him the Museum flag and Gemini IV patch that he borrowed to take in his personal preference kit. He had unpacked them and shot some photos in the cupola for us. "I'm looking forward to bringing those back to you once I get back from my mission," he said.
Our conservation team had the pleasure of hosting Alan Eustace, former Google executive, engineer, and stratospheric explorer, this month in the Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory. Eustace and his StratEx team are well known for their three world records including one for the highest altitude jump at 41,422 meters (135,899 feet) in 2014. The adventurer was in town giving a lecture about his historic jump and to donate to the Museum the suit, life support, and balloon equipment module he used during the jump.