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!
December 17 marks the date of the first flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903. As part of the 46th anniversary festivities in 1949, the Air Force Association (AFA) arranged for Colonel Thomas Lanphier to fly around the world on American commercial airlines, demonstrating the efficiency of American airlines and emphasizing the rapid growth of aviation technology in the years since the first flight at Kitty Hawk.
For the past decade, SpaceShipOne has been on display as one of the hanging artifacts in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. It was specifically positioned to depict the aircraft in its initial stage of powered flight (30 degrees, nose up attitude) just after release from its White Knight mother ship, which carried it aloft to an altitude of about 14,326 meters (47,000 feet). In March of this year, SpaceShipOne was lowered to the floor as part of a major renovation of the Milestones gallery. During this time, it received a thorough condition assessment and photo documentation by conservator Sharon Norquest. After surface cleaning and minor conservation work is completed, it is scheduled to be rehung this week and will be one of the major artifacts in the new Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, scheduled to open in July 2016. The renovation project provided us with a unique opportunity to consider how we showcase SpaceShipOne in the future.
Next week marks the 40th anniversary of an important moment in space history, when astronauts and cosmonauts greeted each other warmly in their docked Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft while orbiting above the Earth.
The phrase is really shorthand for a deeper question, namely, what happened to the optimistic predictions for air and space travel after the historic Apollo landings on the Moon, between 1969 and 1972? Why, after 45 years, are there no permanent colonies on the Moon?
Every Fourth of July, visitors and locals alike crowd the National Mall to watch the fireworks show with the Washington Monument as one of its focal points. The monument reopened to the public in May 2014 as the last vestiges of scaffolding were removed from it, a visible reminder of the damage caused by a 2011 earthquake. Every year, thousands of visitors photograph themselves on the National Mall with the monument in the background. It is no surprise that it is popular in aviation photography as well.
With the depredations of Nazi Germany dominating the international memory of the middle decades of the twentieth century, many German social, cultural, and technical contributions not associated with the tainted influence of the Third Reich have been forgotten or overlooked. One of the individuals who contributed significantly to the prospects of regular transatlantic air service before open warfare ended such endeavors was Wolfgang von Gronau.
When the floods in Thailand appeared in the news recently, my friends and colleagues recommended that I stay away. But how could I? It was only a 4.5 hour flight from China (where I would be attending the Lishui International Photography Festival November 5 - 9) and photographing the Bangkok (BKK) air traffic control tower at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport was a high priority on my “to do” list. Actually, the highest. It is the tallest freestanding air traffic control tower in the world at 132.2 meters (434 feet) and a major tower to include in my upcoming book and Smithsonian exhibition The Art of the Airport Tower.
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?