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.
Who do you call when you need to know everything there is to know about the Star Trek starship Enterprise? As the curator for that artifact—the original 11-foot model used in filming the Star Trek television program that aired from 1966 until 1969—I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and learning about Star Trek. The Museum has a lot of source material to rely upon: the acquisition, restoration, and exhibit record for this artifact stands at more than 1000 pages (and growing). In fact, I hired an intern two summers ago just to create a comprehensive index for that record so that I could know, for certain, whether I had checked every relevant document in it when searching for an answer. That review of the Museum’s records was a part of the move of the model that I have been planning for several years.
The world’s first ballistic missile campaign began when the first German V-2 missile successfully launched in combat hit a suburb outside Paris. A second launch later that day hit Chiswick near London. Senior curator Michael Neufeld discusses the V-2 and this campaign.
Soon after the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, images and data from its instruments revealed that its main mirror was optically flawed. It suffered from spherical aberration—not all portions of the mirror focused to the same point. The mirror’s shape was off by less than 1/50th the thickness of a human hair, but this tiny flaw proved devastating to the quality of the Hubble’s images and to the efficiency of all of its instruments.
On February 16, 1994, a significant milestone in American aviation occurred when the Federal Aviation Administration certified the first GPS unit for use in IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) operations. Twenty years later, GPS has become the dominant form of en route navigation as well as the primary technology for guiding aircraft in low-visibility approaches to landing.
The possibility of human mechanical flight held particular fascination for Leonardo da Vinci. He produced more than 35,000 words and 500 sketches dealing with flying machines, the nature of air, and bird flight. He produced one notebook, or codex, almost entirely on flight in 1505-1506, known as the Codex on Bird Flights. In this codex, Leonardo outlined a number of observations and beginning concepts that would find a place in the development of a successful airplane in the early twentieth century. This extraordinary document, exhibited outside of Italy only a few times, is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age gallery from September 13-October 22, 2013. The story of the journey of the Codex on the Flight of Birds from the hand of Leonardo to the National Air and Space Museum exhibit is as fascinating as the document itself.
Until the nineteenth century, Leonardo da Vinci was generally known only as a painter. Little or nothing of his sculpture or engineering works survived, and his notebooks, the only surviving evidence of his insatiable curiosity and fertile mind regarding science and technology, were long hidden away, dispersed in private hands. It was only after 1800 that the record of his intellectual and technical accomplishments, the thousands of pages of writings and drawings that we collectively refer to today as Leonardo’s codices, began to surface, be studied, and published.
Monday, we launched the new National Air and Space Museum website. We’ve given the site an extreme makeover and are very excited to launch this revitalized online presence. This digital “renovation” was completed in-house by our Web & New Media Department with tremendous support from many contributors and stakeholders across the Museum.