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
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.
"People Standing on Wings" is probably one of the more obscure genres of aviation photography found in the Museum's Archives Division files. Originally, men and women stood on aircraft wings to demonstrate the strength of the wing and struts.