When the National Air and Space Museum opened in 1976, the production model of the Starship Enterprise was prominently and dramatically displayed hanging at the entrance of “Life in the Universe” gallery. Later, when that gallery closed, and the starship was moved to several other locations within the museum.
“I do not recall anyone else near my age giving tours or being turned loose to meet and greet the general public, ” he recalls, “ but it was a joy for me to share my enthusiasm with citizens from across the world, and turn their casual museum visits into a thrilling learning experience.”
The original studio model of the Starship Enterprise used in the television series "Star Trek" came to the Smithsonian Institution thirty-five years ago, donated by Paramount Studios in 1974. When the television show ended in 1969, the starship had been crated and stored at the studios. Over time, heat, cold, humidity and other elements had taken a toll on the structure, the wiring and other internal components as well as the exterior paint scheme. Before it could be put on exhibit, extensive restoration was required.
A Smithsonian Institution curator whom I greatly admire once said that collecting objects for a museum is a bit like standing next to a river with a bucket. The curator’s task is to gather examples that explain what is important about something (in this analogy, a river), but the curator can only take what fits in the bucket. How do you capture the essence of something large and complex with a sample that is small enough to be preserved and displayed?
Maybe it was director Shawn Levy’s dimpled grin as he talked about featuring the Smithsonian in his new movie. Or perhaps it was producer Tom Hammel’s description of how they planned to reunite Amelia Earhart with her beloved Lockheed Vega in the Museum. In any case, when the crew from Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian first met with us, I had a sense this project was going to be fun.
Watching the broadcast of the Space Shuttle Atlantis lifting off into the blue sky last week brought back memories of a research trip to the Kennedy Space Center last fall. National Air and Space Museum staff members are hard at work on a new exhibition about the history of the space shuttle era and the International Space Station.The trip included behind-the-scenes tours of various facilities at the Center and an up-close look at launch pad 39A with an elevator ride to 195 feet and a peek inside the entry hatch of Atlantis.
Every spring, the National Air and Space Museum hosts a conference for other air and space museums to discuss our "mutual concerns." The conference gathers representatives of over one hundred such museums.
One of the best things about working at the National Air and Space Museum is going to the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility every now and then. The museum keeps aircraft that is being restored and artifacts that need special storage conditions–like spacesuits!—out there.