Last Friday, the Museum hosted an online conference devoted to critical thinking in the Internet age. Using four conspiracy theories in aerospace history to demonstrate effective research techniques, staff from our Museum, the US Department of the Navy, and National History Day engaged with students and teachers from across the globe.
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.
I had my first glimpse of the end of the shuttle era in April, three months before Atlantis touched down from the final shuttle mission. Discovery had just completed its last flight, and I had an opportunity to visit Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) Bay 3, which for years had been Discovery’s home for between-mission servicing. Discovery did not return to Bay 3 after STS-133, moving instead into Bay 1 for post-flight work.
I was thrilled to be a part of the NASA Tweetup for STS-135 July 7 and 8 at Kennedy Space Center. It was exciting — and almost surreal — to be there for the end of the space program that my generation grew up with. We weren’t around for the Moon landings, but we all remember the first time the space shuttle “took off like a rocket and landed like a plane.”
Here is a riddle: What takes more than 60 locations, 5 years, and 150 scientists to decide? The landing site for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity. Picking the landing site for a spacecraft to land on another planet is always serious business. And the job of finding the best location for Curiosity to set down on Mars was no exception. Curiosity’s mission is geared towards understanding whether Mars could have ever been habitable.
There is a strange looking car parked in the west end of the National Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington, DC. For now, it is only visible behind its security screen from the second floor landing above. From that vantage, the vehicle’s six wheels, robotic arm, mast, and other protrusions are clearly visible. But since this is the Air and Space Museum, it must be more than just a normal car. Soon the barriers will be gone and the public will be able to view the vehicle up close and personal. And what they will see is a model of the next Mars rover, NASA’s 2011 Mars Science Laboratory. The rover, dubbed “Curiosity” will be launched to Mars later this year and will begin its mission to explore whether places on the Red Planet were ever habitable.
For the month of June, 30 beautiful images of the solar system are on display on the terrace by the Independence Avenue entrance. They are part of the From Earth to the Solar System exhibition developed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory/Chandra with the NASA Astrobiology Institute.