It’s not a typical afternoon at work when you answer the phone and hear, "Hey, Dr. Neal. It's Kjell Lindgren calling from the International Space Station." Thus began a 15-minute surprise call from the ISS Expedition 44-45 NASA astronaut. Lindgren just wanted to say that he had with him the Museum flag and Gemini IV patch that he borrowed to take in his personal preference kit. He had unpacked them and shot some photos in the cupola for us. "I'm looking forward to bringing those back to you once I get back from my mission," he said.
Through the commotion of a very successful July which included the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the 46th anniversary of Apollo 11, and the Museum’s very first Kickstarter project, there is one anniversary that we may have inadvertently overlooked. In July, the Zvezda (Russian for “star”) module of the International Space Station (ISS) celebrated 15 years in orbit.
The door was locked, but a swipe of a security access card rewarded us with a satisfying “click.” Someone pushed the double doors open and we stepped into the laboratory. We paused for the briefest instant as my eyes, and those of my fellow campers, were transfixed on the object on the other side of the room: The Starship Enterprise from the original Star Trek series.
“Pass the turkey, please.” “Do you have room for dessert?” The elements of a traditional Thanksgiving meal are passed around in plastic pouches instead of platters and bowls, but the spirit of this holiday in space is the same as at home. Gathered around (or over!) a makeshift table, crewmates have celebrated Thanksgiving on Skylab, the Space Shuttle, the Russian Mir space station, and the International Space Station (ISS).
Thirty-five years ago, on July 11, 1979, the first US space station fell out of orbit. It wasn’t a surprise or an error, nor was it a calamity. It was more like an intense meteor shower—sparkling and momentary—as Skylab entered the atmosphere. Very little of this spacecraft as large as a house was ever found on the ground.
The National Air and Space Museum was once again honored to host a space shuttle crew this past Friday. This visit was special because it was the STS-135 crew of the shuttle Atlantis, the historic final mission that returned on July 21. The crew was only four astronauts for this last flight, smaller than the normal seven.
On the morning of March 2, I got an excited text message from fellow astronomy educator Shelley Witte, telling me that the International Space Station (ISS) and Space Shuttle Discovery would be coming very close to transiting the Sun from our position at the National Air and Space Museum’s Public Observatory at exactly 3:08 pm.