Since its opening, and until recent years, our Zeiss Model VIa optical planetarium projector has brought the wonder of the night sky to countless visitors. The Zeiss Company no longer services the over 40 year-old model, and though its stars are as sharp as ever, and its skies deep in their dramatic blackness, its celestial motors have become weary, so it has been retired in favor of an ever-improving digital projection system that offers many advantages to meet modern programming needs. The Albert Einstein Planetarium theater itself is also closing as our multi-year renovation progresses through the Museum, but it will eventually reopen as a fully digital experience. Now that we are saying good-bye to its original projector, the Zeiss Model VIa, the question is, of course, how did it get here
Earlier this month, I wrote about some of the behind-the-scenes work it took to survey and pack the Arthur C. Clarke Collection for transfer to the National Air and Space Museum. In this post, I wanted to highlight the types of material that make up this wonderful collection. These were all found during my cursory survey of the material; who knows what wonderful items we will uncover as we start the in-depth processing!
For the last several years, we worked with the Arthur C. Clarke Trust to have the author’s papers donated to the Museum. One challenging factor was that the Trust and his papers sat in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Clarke’s home for most of his adult life. Legal and logistical issues abounded. But in Summer 2014, we reached a legal agreement. At the same time, we were fortunate to gain the support of FedEx to help us get Clarke’s collection safely from Sri Lanka to the U.S. In December, my colleague Patti Williams and I traveled to Colombo, welcomed by longtime Clarke associates Rohan de Silva and Hector Ekanayake. We assessed and boxed the collection, and with much help from FedEx’s world-wide team and transportation network, transferred Clarke’s life’s work to its new home in the Museum archives. It is now being conserved and processed, perhaps ready for use by researchers later this fall.
Eighteenth century ladies fans are not something visitors normally expect to encounter in the National Air and Space Museum. Nevertheless, we have them! The Evelyn Way Kendall Ballooning and Early Aviation Collection, acquired in 2014 thanks to the generosity of the Norfolk Charitable Trust, includes over 1,000 works of art, prints, posters, objects, manuscripts, and books documenting the history of flight from the first balloon ascensions in 1783 through the early years of the twentieth century.
“Oh Lordy, I don’t know if we can loan that object or not, it is exceptionally rare! High maintenance, too.” -- Dan Hagedorn, curator and director of collections of The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.
One subtheme of the Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extravehicular Activity exhibition is the connection between the photography of spacewalking and art. We even hosted a special event in February featuring the photographer Michael Soluri and spacewalker John Grunsfeld to talk about how those two expressive visual methods came together during the STS-125 servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Every week or two we see news of another museum digitizing its collection and making it accessible online. The Smithsonian is no exception, and efforts are under way across our campus to scan artifacts, works of art, documents, and films and put them on our websites. These projects take months if not years to complete, but it is our high priority to open the museums to visitors beyond our walls, and digitization is a key part of our strategy. The National Air and Space Museum, working closely with the Smithsonian’s central Digitization Program Office, already has made a pioneering step in this direction by scanning the iconic 1903 Wright Flyer in 3D and creating a number of “tours” that enable online visitors to examine the aircraft as a whole and take detailed looks at many of its features. We have just scanned Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and are preparing the auxiliary content for online access.
At the height of the summer of 2013, when I was getting ready to go on maternity leave to have my second child, I found myself as the only curator signed on to an anniversary exhibition celebrating the first spacewalks done in 1965...Feeling a bit under qualified and overcommitted, I went on to find out just what it took to make something notional only 18 months ago into a beautifully vibrant reality. Here are some of the lessons I learned and proudest moments from this experience.
Following months of preparation, members of the Collections Processing Unit moved the center section of the Horten Ho 229 V3* from the Paul E. Garber Restoration and Storage Facility to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center last Friday.
It was particularly timely that during the hustle and bustle of the 2014 holidays, I, along with curators Jennifer Levasseur and Cathleen Lewis, had a very special package to open for the very first time.
Who do you call when you need to know everything there is to know about the Star Trek starship Enterprise? As the curator for that artifact—the original 11-foot model used in filming the Star Trek television program that aired from 1966 until 1969—I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and learning about Star Trek. The Museum has a lot of source material to rely upon: the acquisition, restoration, and exhibit record for this artifact stands at more than 1000 pages (and growing). In fact, I hired an intern two summers ago just to create a comprehensive index for that record so that I could know, for certain, whether I had checked every relevant document in it when searching for an answer. That review of the Museum’s records was a part of the move of the model that I have been planning for several years.