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
I’ve worked as a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for more than three decades. It has been an amazing ride. I’ve done things and met people I could never have in any other job. In that time I have had many reasons to be thankful. Thankful to have closely studied artifacts that have changed the world, like the Wright Flyer. Thankful to have met larger-than-life figures whose accomplishments are in the historical firmament for all time, such Neil Armstrong and John Glenn. Thankful to have worked with many world-class scholars and museum professionals.
As previously discussed in Spiral Threads of Corrosion Overtake an Antenna Drive, a one-year conservation triage project is underway to deal with artifacts that are actively deteriorating and require stabilizing treatments prior to being permanently relocated to the new storage facility at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. These artifacts include a wide range of issues to be dealt with by a team of three contract conservators, including active corrosion, mold contamination, pest management, hazardous materials, and physical insecurities.
This past month National Air and Space Museum and Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) interns were able to travel to Frederica, Delaware to visit the International Latex Corporation Dover (ILC). It is one of several companies that produces the "soft materials" or non-metal components of spacesuits for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). ILC was started in 1932 by Abram Spanel, and eventually made latex products to support the Allied troops in World War II. While today the company creates a range of products from personal protection equipment (PPE) to materials for the pharmaceutical industry, it is probably best known for producing spacesuits for the Apollo program. That means that ILC was responsible for designing and making the spacesuit that Neil Armstrong wore when he first stepped on the Moon in 1969.
One of the primary objectives in the Museum’s previous collection surveys has been to identify artifacts which are actively deteriorating and require stabilizing treatments prior to being relocated to the new storage facility at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. These artifacts with active corrosion, mold contamination, hazardous materials, and physical insecurities were set aside for a team of three contract conservators to perform specialized treatments.
What’s missing when you sit in front of a computer all day? Adventure! Luckily, three Time and Navigation photography missions took me across the country last year, giving me the chance to escape the office.
How do you bring together two orbiting astronauts and more than 12,000 students scattered around the U.S. and Canada? It’s not rocket science, but it's close. First you have to find some very dedicated partners with a common purpose, like the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education. Second you have to ensure an audience; which isn’t very difficult because who wouldn’t jump at the chance to talk to astronauts while in space? Third, and most challenging, you have to put together the technology capable of linking 24 sites scattered around North America and Hawaii with something moving at 28,163 kph (17,500 mph) 354 km (220 miles) above the Earth’s surface.
My first word was JET, since we lived near an Air Force base and experienced sonic booms on a regular basis. My fascination with the heavens took off from there. Growing up, my family went camping and backpacking a lot, and one of my clearest memories of that time is looking up at a dark, dark sky and pointing out satellites to each other, those little moving points of light that are sometimes so faint I could only see them in my peripheral vision.
Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum don’t often get to see the work that goes on behind the scenes. This is especially true in terms of the labor that goes into collecting and caring for our artifacts. Many may wonder where all the air and space stuff (we call them artifacts) comes from. The answer is from a variety of places, including the United States Air Force, NASA, and the general public. These artifacts vary; some are large (aircraft and spacecraft) but many are relatively small (aircraft equipment or military or commercial airline uniforms and insignia, for example, or items of popular culture—air and space toys and games).