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Science & Engineering

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Fri, February 11 2011

A Laptop in Space

The announcement last year that Bill Moggridge was selected to be the new head of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York gave me pause. In my daily work I tend to stay on a narrow path of aerospace-related topics, but that name sounded familiar. A glance at my bookshelf gave me the answer: before joining the Cooper-Hewitt, Moggridge was a co-founder of the international design firm IDEO, and while there he played a crucial role in the design of the world’s first laptop computer: the GRiD Compass, first marketed in 1982. The unusual capitalization of “GRiD” was a trademark of the company that developed it.  

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Tue, January 11 2011

5 Cool Things at the Udvar-Hazy Center You May Have Missed

Check out these must-see aircraft and space objects during your next (or first) visit to the Udvar-Hazy Center.

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Fri, December 3 2010

Robert Goddard and the Smithsonian

A native of Worcester, Massachusetts, born in 1882, Goddard earned a B.Sc. from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1908) and an M.Sc. (1911) and a Ph.D. (1912) in physics from Clark University. After some important early work in electronics, the young professor began his work on rocketry and spaceflight. In 1914 he patented the design of both a multistage and a liquid propellant rocket and conducted an experiment demonstrating the ability of a rocket to function in space. The work was becoming ever more expensive, he explained to Abbot, and wondered if the Smithsonian could offer any support.

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Tue, September 21 2010

Ballistic Missile Guidance on your Cell Phone?

If you don’t already own one, you’ve no doubt seen advertisements for them on television. I am referring to so-called “smartphones,” which can change the orientation of their display, from Portrait to Landscape, depending on how you hold them. They can do that because they contain a fingernail-sized chip inside, which senses the acceleration of gravity, and adjusts the display accordingly. Resourceful programmers have come up with a number of other applications, or “apps,” for these phones, which take advantage of the on-board ability to sense acceleration. If you only use a plain old-fashioned cell phone, you still have a number of these devices around you. Automobiles use them for airbag deployment, stability control, and braking systems.

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Sat, August 7 2010

Thirtieth Anniversary - First Public Demonstration Of Solar-Powered Gossamer Penguin

On August 7, 1980, 30 years ago today, Janice Brown flew the Penguin almost 3.5 km (two miles) that day in 14 minutes, 21 seconds. This was the first sustained flight of a solar-powered aircraft and the longest Penguin flight since development had started on the aircraft two years earlier.

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Tue, June 22 2010

Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics… and Pre-Kindergarten

President Obama’s “Educate to Innovate” campaign, announced last year, calls for increased literacy in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for all students. Increased STEM literacy means increased understanding of key scientific concepts, increased familiarity with technology and its applications, and increased exposure to the experimental process. As one of the world’s most popular museums, our stories of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are engaging and relevant to old and young visitors alike. 

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Wed, June 9 2010

Trajectories of Space Flight (Part Two)

In a previous blog post, I discussed the influence that Wernher von Braun had on the vision of the way that human space travel would progress, from brief flights into space to long duration missions to Mars.  To continue that discussion: Wernher von Braun envisioned the space station to be something quite different from the International Space Station that is now in orbit: he imagined a wheel-shaped vessel that rotated to provide artificial gravity for its crew.

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Wed, March 24 2010

Barbara Marx Hubbard and the Origins of the Pro-Space Movement in the 1970s

The formal beginnings of the modern "pro-space movement"—really an extension of the ad hoc efforts to gain and sustain public support for an aggressive spaceflight agenda earlier led by Wernher von Braun and others—might be best traced to the June 1970 formation of the Committee for the Future (CFF), a small group of space activists, dreamers, and misfits. Meeting in the home of Barbara Marx Hubbard, daughter of the toy king, and her husband, artist-philosopher Earl Hubbard, in Lakeville, Connecticut, they proposed establishing a lunar colony.

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Thu, February 11 2010

Shuttle-Era Shopping Spree

Being snowbound at home for a long weekend presented a perfect opportunity to go shopping online – for Space Shuttle artifacts!

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Tue, September 8 2009

This Android is no Dummy

First of all there is a question of just what to call this device. Is it a “dummy”? That’s what its creators called it sometimes, but that sounds too pejorative and does not give credit to its complexity. Is it a “robot”? That’s what it looks like. Or is it an “android,” defined by the dictionary as “an automaton made to resemble a human being”?

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