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Behind the Scenes

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Fri, March 8 2013

Pluto’s Secret: Writing the Museum’s First Children’s Book

How did three staff members at the National Air and Space Museum get to collaborate on the Museum’s first children’s book, Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery?  The short answer is that this is an extraordinary place to work.  And when people are as generous with their time and talents as my collaborators have been, neat stuff happens.

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Thu, February 7 2013

Where There is Wool, There is a Way

My coworkers and I are fortunate: every day, we get to touch pieces of history that few others ever lay hands on and seldom see. Why are we so privileged? We are helping to move some of the National Air and Space Museum’s collections from their previous storage site to new facilities at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

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Thu, January 10 2013

The Archives Department’s First Anniversary at the Udvar-Hazy Center

On January 10, 2012, the National Air and Space Museum Archives Department officially opened its new reading room at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center to public researchers.  We welcomed six researchers that day, including two who had scheduled a trip from Germany to coincide with our grand opening.

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Mon, December 3 2012

Filming the Story of Getting from Here to There

The central theme of the Time and Navigation exhibition is the connection between timekeeping and determining position. During the development of the exhibition, we realized it was not enough to show devices for accurately measuring time and position. We wanted visitors to grasp why it's true that "If you want to know where you are, you need an accurate clock."

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Fri, November 9 2012

Stanley Moves In

On October 24, Stanley, winner of a historic robot race, left its home at the National Museum of American History aboard a flatbed truck and arrived safely at its destination, just seven blocks away. For the foreseeable future, Stanley will be here at the National Air and Space Museum, a centerpiece in the exhibition Time and Navigation:  The Untold Story of Getting From Here to There. The irony of the situation escaped no one.  Stanley, a driverless vehicle that had navigated 132 miles on its own to win the 2005 Defense Advanced Research Projects Grand Challenge, needed the help of scores of people AND a truck ride to get from there to here.  

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Mon, November 5 2012

Learning Takes Flight

Washington, DC is filled with museums of all shapes and sizes that feature educational exhibits and activities for kids. Developing learning opportunities for different ages at a museum requires a lot of planning. Staff must identify an audience for each program, know how to best engage that audience (combining the latest scholarship about informal learning with an understanding of various learning theories and recognition that people learn in many different ways), define a learning objective (what do we want the audience to learn?) and figure out how to make it fun.

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Tue, October 23 2012

“A Company of Scholars”: A Brief History of the National Air and Space Museum’s Fellowship Program

In the past, fellows have written about everything from spaceflight in the Soviet Union to the "Nisei" stewardesses on Pan American Airways. If you were to apply for a fellowship at the National Air and Space Museum, what would you research?

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Wed, October 17 2012

The Curious Story of a Cuban Missile Crisis Artifact

On Monday morning, October 15, 1962, CIA photo interpreters (PIs) hovered anxiously over a light table at the National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC).

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Fri, October 5 2012

Are You Sure You Want to Donate This?

“Are you sure you want to donate this?” I asked the intern. “This” was a slightly-used Smartphone, in perfect working condition. The intern, Rebecca Bacheller, was, indeed, willing to donate it. She heard that the Time and Navigation team wanted to disassemble one and showcase the current state of geolocation devices, enabled by the Global Positioning System and other advanced electronics. Our plan was to label the phone’s circuits, and show how they correspond to classical methods of navigation that had been practiced for centuries. Becky was excited that she would be credited in the label; she also had another motive: namely a reason to trade up to the newest version of the popular phone.

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Tue, September 11 2012

Langley Preservation Project: Thinking Outside the Box

In 1887, Samuel Pierpont Langley became the third Secretary of the Smithsonian.  Included among his many accomplishments is his founding of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in 1890.  His research in the fields of astronomy, physics, and aviation remain a testament to his diverse...

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