Although the collection of the National Air and Space Museum contains some of the best air- and spacecraft, it also has one of the best collections of artifacts from the often forgotten days of ballooning. Before humans were able to fly into the heavens on wings or rockets, they first rose off the ground in balloons, often tethered to prevent complete flight.
On January 15, 1967, the NFL champion Green Bay Packers played the AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs in what would later be known as Super Bowl I. Sixty years earlier, American football looked much different. Helmets resembled aviator caps. Forward passes had been legal for less than a year.
The nation is in the process of commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and those of us at the Smithsonian are very much involved, searching our collections for items that will help our visitors better understand the conflict that divided 19th century America. As might be expected, the National Museum of American History, the National Portrait Gallery, and the National Museum of American Art preserve and display a wealth of objects, portraits, and images that help to bring the Civil War era to life. Who would have guessed, however, that the National Air and Space Museum would hold a single object used by more high ranking Union Army officers than any other surviving artifact in the entire Smithsonian collection!
This summer, the world is marking the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest milestones in aerospace history, and one of the most remarkable of all human achievements—the first Moon landing by Apollo 11. But the summer of 2009 also marks another meaningful event in aerospace history. It is the centennial of military aviation.