Today would have been visionary science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 100th birthday (1917-2008). In the many decades since his first writings, his renown and influence still reverberate, motivating a range of contemporary thinkers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
May 10 may ring a bell for fans of the 1970s television show The Six Million Dollar Man. On that day in 1967, a NASA research aircraft, the wingless M2-F2 lifting body, crashed in the California desert. A film clip of the crash opened the popular weekly show about the gravely injured fictional pilot, Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors.
When the National Air and Space Museum opened in 1976, the production model of the Starship Enterprise was prominently and dramatically displayed hanging at the entrance of “Life in the Universe” gallery. Later, when that gallery closed, and the starship was moved to several other locations within the museum.
The original studio model of the Starship Enterprise used in the television series "Star Trek" came to the Smithsonian Institution thirty-five years ago, donated by Paramount Studios in 1974. When the television show ended in 1969, the starship had been crated and stored at the studios. Over time, heat, cold, humidity and other elements had taken a toll on the structure, the wiring and other internal components as well as the exterior paint scheme. Before it could be put on exhibit, extensive restoration was required.