The year is 1967. The government has requested your skills to help locate a downed plane somewhere near hostile territory. After getting the mission details in the briefing room, you embark on a journey through the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Virginia, looking carefully at various artifacts and discovering clues that will lead you to the downed plane. Test your powers of observation, your problem-solving skills, and your decision-making abilities as you take on the role of intelligence analyst. The game will engage you through hands-on activities and secret codes that lead to an ultimate conclusion. The fate of top-secret technology and missing pilots is in your hands.
On April 1, 2014, the National Air and Space Museum opened an exhibition featuring the pressurized Red Bull Stratos gondola that carried Felix Baumgartner to a record altitude of 39,045 meters (128,100 feet) over Roswell, New Mexico, and the pressure suit and parachute that protected him during the long fall back to Earth. Not long after, I had a visit from an old friend, balloonist Julian Nott, whose record-setting pressurized hot air balloon gondola was also coming into the Museum’s collection. One of the pioneers of modern ballooning, Julian has established 79 world ballooning records for altitude, distance, and time aloft during a long and extraordinary career.
On February 16, 1994, a significant milestone in American aviation occurred when the Federal Aviation Administration certified the first GPS unit for use in IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) operations. Twenty years later, GPS has become the dominant form of en route navigation as well as the primary technology for guiding aircraft in low-visibility approaches to landing.
The second Apollo mission to carry astronauts into space provided NASA and the world with an unprecedented view of life on Earth. From the start, with its planned mission to fly three astronauts around the Moon and back, Apollo 8 became a touchstone for how people understood the process of spaceflight.
The newest addition to the Time and Navigation gallery is a life-size bronze statue of a dog named Sydney. Sydney now reclines amiably on the deck of the exhibition’s ship, and our youngest visitors are finding him appealing. On a recent morning, one toddler was observed patting the statue’s head and squealing, “Puppy!” Another clambered onto Sydney’s back and went for an imaginary ride.
Given the enormous popularity of GPS among civilian users, and the critical applications for the military, it is not surprising that a large body of literature has arisen about the origins of this remarkable technology. The curators of the new Time and Navigation exhibition discuss this history, and we have illustrated it with a few select artifacts, such as the engineering model of the Navy’s NTS-2 satellite, one of the key demonstrators of the technology that led to the deployment of the GPS constellation.
What’s missing when you sit in front of a computer all day? Adventure! Luckily, three Time and Navigation photography missions took me across the country last year, giving me the chance to escape the office.