One of the great honors of working at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is the opportunity to interact with some of the few humans to orbit the Earth. Earlier in December, we mourned the loss of one of our dearest supporters and friends, Senator John H. Glenn. Now, we have again lost a featured speaker at the Museum, Dr. Piers J. Sellers, who worked at the nearby NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The following stories about working with Sellers are from two Space History Department curators, who found his unique spirit and passion for science inspiring and heartwarming.
How did you become a pilot for the SR-71 Blackbird? Buzz Carpenter knows. He started flying the SR-71 in 1975 after a week-long interview process that included an astronaut physical. Buzz shares what it was like becoming a Blackbird pilot, how pilots used their 580-degree windows to heat up their lunches, and how the aircraft got the nickname Habu.
This week the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, which carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on their historic trip to the Moon, moved to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. To many of us at the Museum, the move seemed to have miraculously happened overnight. In truth, the move took a team of experts and months of meticulous planning to pull off.
“This is something that’s unlike anything, at least for me, that I’ve ever moved,” said Anthony Wallace, a museum specialist in the Museum’s collections processing unit. Wallace explained that the spacecraft was not as complicated to move as some of the Museum’s aircraft, but the historical significance of the object heightened everyone’s awareness.
There are many ways to find information about the collections held by the National Air and Space Museum Archives. There are finding aids with box and folder listings for over 100 collections. We are providing access to more and more of our scrapbooks and photographs. And while we archivists would like to believe that we know everything about everything in the National Air and Space Museum collections, the truth is, with over 17,000 cubic feet of documents, we are frequently discovering, or, should we say, rediscovering items in our collections. The stories behind some of these finds are fascinating!
This week, we placed on display at our Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, the suit that Alan Eustace wore on his record-breaking freefall jump. Eustace jumped from an altitude of 41,419 meters (135,890 feet) in October 2014 to capture the world record—previously held by Felix Baumgartner.
Eustace, former senior vice president of knowledge at Google, was on hand to see the unveiling of the new display. He kindly agreed to answer some of our questions.
What would a spacecraft carrying aliens to first contact with Earth look like?
In Arrival (2016), director Denis Villeneuve’s creative imagination of alien ships arriving at Earth, 12 large, dark, smooth, elongated ships hover effortlessly, without any visible means of propulsion, over far-flung sites on Earth. In response, in the United States, the military and the State Department engage linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to help communicate with the inhabitants. The spaceships themselves present an appearance as inscrutable as the aliens themselves initially are. When the team led by Colonel GT Weber (Forest Whitaker) enters one of them, the roughly textured surfaces of the exterior and walls suggest wear or aging but offer no specific clues about the interior, the ship’s inhabitants, or, most important, their intentions. The resulting narrative of first contact, adapted as a screenplay by Eric Heisserer from a short story by Ted Chiang, proves satisfying, offering a thoughtful consideration of language, communication, and meaning.
In 1876, after the dust from the United States’ first World’s Fair and Centennial Exposition settled on the grounds of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, the Smithsonian Institution’s collections expanded exponentially. Sixty boxcars filled with art, mechanical inventions, and other materials from many of the 37 countries who participated in the Exposition pulled into Washington, DC as gifts for a brand new museum.
Today is Veterans Day, a day in which we honor our veterans, past and present, for their service and sacrifice. One aspect of the Museum’s mission is to commemorate the past. Today, especially, we are doing that by telling the stories of our veterans. We have created a space—Stories of Service—where you can share your experiences as a veteran, or on behalf of the veteran in your life
Bob Hoover passed away yesterday, after a lifetime of adventures rivaling any work of fact or fiction. Bob was an aviation legend, a role-model to generations of pilots, a friend to this Museum, and a gentleman to all who knew him. With the rest of the aviation community, we mourn the passing of the man Jimmy Doolittle called “the greatest stick and rudder man who ever lived.” In the coming days, people all over the world will celebrate his life by trading their favorite Bob Hoover stories. My favorite Bob Hoover story goes like this...