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Research

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Mon, July 25 2016

Exploring Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes: A Towering Red Planet Analog

As the National Air and Space Museum’s annual Mars Day! celebration approaches, we look to a recent research trip taken by a Smithsonian Summer Intern to investigate the similarities between some of Earth’s most amazing dunes and those found on the ruddy surface of Mars.

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Measuring a Megaripple
Thu, April 7 2016

Gravitational Waves Face to Face

On February 11 of this year, when scientists announced that they had detected gravitational waves, I was among the thousands of people who were so excited...

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Black Holes Discovery Station
Mon, March 7 2016

Observing the Surface of Venus with the Arecibo Telescope

This past summer I had the opportunity to operate the world’s largest single-dish telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

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Venus Impact Crater Ejecta
Wed, February 24 2016

Arthur C. Clarke Collection of Sri Lanka Now Publicly Available

Almost a year ago, the Museum announced that it had acquired papers and artifacts of Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008), renowned science fiction author and futurist.  Now we can share that the Archives has completed processing the collection and it is open for research. As we discussed in blogs last year, Clarke was a seminal figure of the 20th century, with his influence still evident in today’s science fiction literature; in the continuing, lively cultural interest in futurism; and, of course, in movies. His collection does what we hope for from any collection of a well-known, highly accomplished individual: to see into his or her processes of creativity and the network of family, friends, and peers that shaped their world.  

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Arthur C. Clarke in his Study
Wed, February 17 2016

Inventing Underwater Training for Walking in Space

Training underwater for extravehicular activity (EVA)—popularly known as spacewalking—is now critical for preparing astronauts to work in weightlessness. But when cosmonauts and astronauts first ventured outside their spacecraft 50 years ago, in 1965 and 1966, they had no such training. Spacewalking did not appear difficult, nor did space program officials think that underwater work was needed. In the United States, it took Eugene Cernan’s June 1966 Gemini IX EVA to change attitudes. Fighting against his pressurized suit, while trying to do work without adequate handholds and footholds, Cernan quickly became exhausted and overheated. Only afterward did NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston reach out to a tiny company outside Baltimore: Environmental Research Associates, Inc. (ERA). Funded by another agency center, it had been experimenting with EVA simulation in a rented school pool on nights, holidays, and weekends. That project became the foundation for Houston’s first underwater training facility.

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G. Samuel Mattingly in the Orbital Workshop mockup
Thu, February 11 2016

Apollo 11: The Writings on the Wall

Last year I wrote about the Armstrong purse, discovered by Neil Armstrong’s widow, Carol, in their home shortly after Neil’s death in 2012. That stowage bag of small (but historically significant) items from the first lunar landing was a reminder that the story of Apollo 11 continues to be told as new details emerge in unexpected places. Recently, we have again been reminded that a curator’s work is never done. During the course of a project to produce a detailed 3D model of the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, we were able to observe and record some hand-written notes and markings in areas of the spacecraft that have been hidden from view for more than 40 years.

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Calendar inside the Apollo 11 Command Module
Wed, September 30 2015

Mars: One Mystery Revealed, Many More to Solve

The recent announcement by NASA that there is evidence of salty, liquid water seeping out of the ground on Mars is both exciting and scientifically puzzling at the same time. As a member of the science team for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), I’ve been hearing about these possible seeps, or Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL), for several years now.

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Recurring Slope Lineae on Hale Crater
Fri, September 18 2015

Earth is Shaping the Shrinking Moon

Planetary science is one of those fields of research where you can always count on being surprised. The remarkable terrain of Pluto and Charon in images being sent back by the New Horizons spacecraft certainly qualifies. One of my all-time big surprises is from a recent discovery on an object much closer to home—the Moon.

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Prominent lobate fault scarp in Vitello Cluster
Thu, July 2 2015

Casting Shadows on the Moon

Much of the Moon is blanketed by a thick layer of dust, built up from the rocky surface over billions of years by the impacts of small meteorites. Hidden beneath the dust is evidence of ancient geologic activity – great volcanic eruptions, tectonic shifts in the crust, and vast deposits of once-molten material hurled outward during the formation of the giant impact basins.

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Radar Image of the Moon
Fri, February 27 2015

Vance Marchbanks' Contribution to Public Health Policy on Sickle Cell Disease

Dr. Vance Marchbanks, Jr. is famous in both the black history and aerospace history communities for his accomplishments as one of the first in his field. He was one of two black MDs to complete the United States Army Air Corps School in Aerospace Medicine at the beginning of World War II. His fame continued through his association with the 99th and 301st Fighter Groups, who later became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

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Vance H. Marchbanks Jr.

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