Popular Culture

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Thu, March 1 2012

The Pilot as Hero in the Aviation Film Genre

The relationship between film, history, and mass culture is especially intriguing when we examine the correspondences between the representation of pilot-heroes in film and public perceptions of aviation. These connections are applicable during the heyday of the aviation genre film—the interwar years and WWII.

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Wed, January 25 2012

When puppets tell the story...

At the National Air and Space Museum, we tell stories in a number of ways — through objects, artwork, lectures, videos, planetarium shows — even puppets. Storytelling through puppetry can be a powerful educational tool for our youngest audiences in particular.

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The Wright Brothers: A Musical Play Puppet Show
Thu, January 5 2012

Hollywood’s Representation of Naval Aviation: Frank W. “Spig” Wead and John Ford’s "The Wings of Eagles" (1957)

During the recently completed centennial of naval aviation (2011), there were many and varied tributes to the factual history of naval aviation. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that public perception of the armed forces is also a strong historical consideration.

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Hollywood’s Representation of Naval Aviation: Frank W. “Spig” Wead and John Ford’s The Wings of Eagles (1957)
Sat, December 24 2011

The Santa Claus Express, Then and Now

In 1925, Mr. S. Claus was looking for a modern alternative to his old-fashioned reindeer-powered sleigh. Having once shown an interest in lighter-than-air flight in the form of hot-air balloons, Santa was favorably inclined when Goodyear came up with a solution — toy delivery via airship, in this case, Pilgrim I, renamed the Santa Claus Express for the occasion.

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Santa Claus
Thu, December 15 2011

A Christmastime Price War—Over a Toy Ray Gun

The first mass-produced toy ray gun had boys and girls flocking to department stores. Do you remember the first space-related toy you ever received?

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Ray Guns
Fri, October 21 2011

Costume Ideas from the Great War

If you're still stumped over what your costume will be for next Saturday's big Air & Scare at the Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center (October 29 from 2 - 8 pm), the photograph shown above, from the July 1918 issue of Die Luftflotte, might provide some inspiration.

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An Aeronautical Ballet
Thu, October 13 2011

Remembering Steve Jobs

Jobs made a donation to the Museum to support the Beyond the Limits Gallery. He also gave us a NeXT workstation, which we promised him we would use to develop a flight simulator for the gallery. But after some efforts, we eventually gave up. I regret we were not able to make his NeXT donation work. The NeXT computer was tricky to work with, but it did have its fans. One researcher at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland got one, and while we were struggling to program ours, he used his to write a program for the Internet that he called the World Wide Web. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

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Wed, August 10 2011

Space Shuttle: The End of An Era

I had my first glimpse of the end of the shuttle era in April, three months before Atlantis touched down from the final shuttle mission. Discovery had just completed its last flight, and I had an opportunity to visit Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) Bay 3, which for years had been Discovery’s home for between-mission servicing. Discovery did not return to Bay 3 after STS-133, moving instead into Bay 1 for post-flight work.

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Idled Orbiter Servicing Bay
Wed, May 18 2011

Collecting Popular Culture

From April 20 to April 23, curators from the Aeronautics Division and the Space History Division attended the 2011 National Conference of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (PCA/ACA) in San Antonio, Texas. Tom Crouch of the Aeronautics Division organized a session on museum collecting and collectors titled “Collecting the Popular Culture of Flight at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum,” and the participants presented papers on collections that we curate. Tom spoke about the Balloonomania Collection of balloon-related furniture and furnishings; Alex Spencer of the Aeronautics Division talked about the Mother Tusch Collection, which contains many significant personal artifacts of military aviation; Margaret Weitekamp of the Space History Division discussed the O’Harro Collection of space memorabilia and popular culture; and I talked about the Stanley King Collection of Lindbergh memorabilia and popular culture.  

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Ray Guns
Fri, December 24 2010

Santa's Balloons and Arctic Airships

Although the reindeer-powered sleigh is the form of transportation most usually associated with Santa Claus, the right jolly old elf displays an unexpected interest in lighter than air flight by launching festive fire balloons over the North Pole while a polar bear watches admiringly. Santa wasn't the last to attempt an LTA mission to the Pole, though - on May 11, 1926, the airship Norge took off from Spitsbergen, Norway. 

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Christmas Greetings


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