Captain Eugene Andrew Cernan died Monday, surrounded by his family in Houston, Texas. He was 82 years old. For more than half his life, he was known as the Last Man on the Moon, but he was also a devoted father and husband, a naval aviator and advocate, and a great friend to many. He remains a hero for the ages.
“Gene” Cernan will always be remembered as the “last man on the Moon”—at least until the next person walks there. As commander of Apollo 17, the final expedition of that program, he spent three days on the Moon with Harrison “Jack” Schmitt. Yet that is not all he accomplished in a storied astronaut career.
NASA is building a brand new rocket for the future of human spaceflight. Astronaut Christina Koch, who graduated from NASA’s astronaut training program in 2015, helps us examine the Space Launch System rocket in more detail.
As 2016 draws to a close, we take a look back at the highs and lows of the year. It was a busy year for the Museum with the opening of new exhibitions and celebrating our 40th anniversary. Most importantly, we were glad we could share the year with you, our fellow aerospace enthusiasts. Did you have a favorite moment from 2016? Let us know @airandspace.
Over the last year, we’ve shared more than 160 stories with you on our blog, and now featured prominently on our website. What were your favorites? According to our calculations, stories about Star Trek tipped the scales, but a few other topics squeezed their way onto our list. For 2016, here are our 10 most popular stories.
One of the great honors of working at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is the opportunity to interact with some of the few humans to orbit the Earth. Earlier in December, we mourned the loss of one of our dearest supporters and friends, Senator John H. Glenn. Now, we have again lost a featured speaker at the Museum, Dr. Piers J. Sellers, who worked at the nearby NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. The following stories about working with Sellers are from two Space History Department curators, who found his unique spirit and passion for science inspiring and heartwarming.
In the early 1960s, the Project Mercury astronauts were celebrities in their own right, receiving bags of fan mail. One Christmas, Scott Carpenter received Christmas wishes featuring a model rocket, an American flag, and the sign, “Merry Christmas Astronauts.” Carpenter received a photo of the scene and a note that read: “Best wishes to Navy Lt. Malcolm S. Carpenter from Mrs. L. T. Burns…Wichita Falls, Texas.”
This week the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, which carried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins on their historic trip to the Moon, moved to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. To many of us at the Museum, the move seemed to have miraculously happened overnight. In truth, the move took a team of experts and months of meticulous planning to pull off.
“This is something that’s unlike anything, at least for me, that I’ve ever moved,” said Anthony Wallace, a museum specialist in the Museum’s collections processing unit. Wallace explained that the spacecraft was not as complicated to move as some of the Museum’s aircraft, but the historical significance of the object heightened everyone’s awareness.
This week, we placed on display at our Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, the suit that Alan Eustace wore on his record-breaking freefall jump. Eustace jumped from an altitude of 41,419 meters (135,890 feet) in October 2014 to capture the world record—previously held by Felix Baumgartner.
Eustace, former senior vice president of knowledge at Google, was on hand to see the unveiling of the new display. He kindly agreed to answer some of our questions.
Those of us from the Washington, DC region recognize that phrase whenever we ride the Washington Metro. That recorded voice is typically followed by another stern voice, “STAND CLEAR OF THE DOORS!” It doesn’t seem to do much good; there are always one or two passengers who insist on standing in front of the doors, blocking the way for those who wish to get on or off.
John Glenn died yesterday, after a lifetime of service to his country. He was a Marine aviator and combat veteran of two wars, the first American to orbit the Earth, a United States Senator, and a great friend. After 95 years, his service is finally complete. It is now up to us to celebrate a life well-lived, and to honor his legacy of virtue and valor. Our hearts are heavy, but full of gratitude.