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Science & Engineering

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Tue, April 23 2013

The Abbreviated History of a Scientist (Namely, Myself)

My first word was JET, since we lived near an Air Force base and experienced sonic booms on a regular basis. My fascination with the heavens took off from there. Growing up, my family went camping and backpacking a lot, and one of my clearest memories of that time is looking up at a dark, dark sky and pointing out satellites to each other, those little moving points of light that are sometimes so faint I could only see them in my peripheral vision.

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Michelle Selvans
Mon, April 1 2013

Mars Rover Discovers Chocolate on Mars

Scientists at the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies announced an astounding discovery at a press conference...

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Mars Landing Site Panorama
Fri, December 28 2012

Shiny Delivery this Holiday Season for the Time and Navigation Exhibition

Preparation of the upcoming Time and Navigation exhibition is in full swing, and objects are being installed in cases throughout the gallery.  In fact, the gallery became a little more shiny just in time for the holiday season thanks to a delivery from our friends at the Naval Research Laboratory.

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NTS-2 Satellite
Fri, November 9 2012

Stanley Moves In

On October 24, Stanley, winner of a historic robot race, left its home at the National Museum of American History aboard a flatbed truck and arrived safely at its destination, just seven blocks away. For the foreseeable future, Stanley will be here at the National Air and Space Museum, a centerpiece in the exhibition Time and Navigation:  The Untold Story of Getting From Here to There. The irony of the situation escaped no one.  Stanley, a driverless vehicle that had navigated 132 miles on its own to win the 2005 Defense Advanced Research Projects Grand Challenge, needed the help of scores of people AND a truck ride to get from there to here.  

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Stanley
Fri, October 5 2012

Are You Sure You Want to Donate This?

“Are you sure you want to donate this?” I asked the intern. “This” was a slightly-used Smartphone, in perfect working condition. The intern, Rebecca Bacheller, was, indeed, willing to donate it. She heard that the Time and Navigation team wanted to disassemble one and showcase the current state of geolocation devices, enabled by the Global Positioning System and other advanced electronics. Our plan was to label the phone’s circuits, and show how they correspond to classical methods of navigation that had been practiced for centuries. Becky was excited that she would be credited in the label; she also had another motive: namely a reason to trade up to the newest version of the popular phone.

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SINS Typewriter
Thu, August 2 2012

Satisfying Our Curiosity: Mars Science Laboratory and the Quest for the Red Planet

Mars has long held a special fascination for humans—in no small measure because of the possibility that life either presently exists or at some time in the past has existed there. In his classic work Cosmos, Carl Sagan asks an important question: “Why Martians?” Why do Earthlings not similarly obsess over “Saturnarians” or “Plutonians?” As a planet resembling our own, Sagan concludes, Mars “has become a kind of mythic arena onto which we have projected our earthly hopes and fears.” NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover is scheduled to land on the Red Planet in the early morning hours of August 6, 2012 EDT. Thus, “Why Mars?” is a question that we will seek to answer for visitors to the National Air and Space Museum.

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Curiosity on Mars (artist's' conception)
Mon, July 23 2012

Telstar and the World of 1962

Last week, the Museum recognized the 50th anniversary of Telstar, the first “active” satellite (one that can receive a radio signal from a ground station and then immediately re-transmit it to another) and the first technology of any kind that enabled transatlantic television transmissions.  In 1962, both accomplishments generated intense interest, excitement, and commentary.

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Telstar
Wed, June 27 2012

Look! In the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…a flying beer keg?

Well, not exactly, but that is the nickname some have given to the RQ-16 T-Hawk (short for Tarantula Hawk, a wasp that preys on the large spiders).  The T-Hawk micro air vehicle (MAV) is a small unmanned aircraft that has been making a name for itself in both military and civilian circles since it was developed by Honeywell International Corporation starting in 2003.  Weighing only about 20 pounds, the T-hawk relies on a small gasoline-powered engine (like a lawn-mower) and a ducted fan to allow it to take off and land vertically (like a helicopter), fly up to 46 miles per hour for about 50 minutes, and reach heights of 10,000 feet! 

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RQ-16A T-Hawk
Wed, May 30 2012

Hypersonic Flight

The day is Thursday, February 24, 1949; the pens on the automatic plotting boards at South Station are busy tracking the altitude and course of a rocket, which just moments before had been launched from a site three miles away on the test range of the White Sands Proving Ground.

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NASA X-43A Scramjet
Wed, May 16 2012

Scratching Beneath the Surface

What's inside a planet? What instruments do scientists use to figure it out? And what clues does a planet's surface give us? On Saturday, April 21, Lisa Walsh and I, scientists from the Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, invited visitors to the National Air and Space Museum's Explore the Universe Family Day to think about these questions, through two hands-on activities relating to our research into tectonics on Mercury.

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Explore the Universe Family Day

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