When the Apollo 11 spacecraft lifted off on July 16, 1969, for the Moon, it signaled a climactic instance in human history. Reaching the Moon on July 20, its Lunar Module—with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin aboard—landed on the lunar surface while Michael Collins orbited overhead in the Apollo 11 command module. Armstrong soon set foot on the surface, telling millions on Earth that it was “one small step for [a] man—one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin soon followed him out and the two planted an American flag but omitted claiming the land for the U.S. as had been routinely done during European exploration of the Americas, collected soil and rock samples, and set up scientific experiments. The next day they returned to the Apollo capsule overhead and returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24.
Regular summer visitors to the National Air and Space Museum are familiar with the Museum’s popular event, Mars Day. This year, Mars is taking a backseat to allow us to honor the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing with Countdown to the Moon Day.
What will the astronauts who return to the Moon with NASA’s Constellation program drive? I had a chance to find out last October as a member of NASA's Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) during the field test of the Lunar Electric Rover (LER) at Black Point lava flow in Arizona.
Flag Day is June 14 and it reminds me of one of the most famous "stars and stripes" in history -- the one left on the Moon by the Apollo 11 crew in 1969. I remember clearly that day when, as a teenager, I watched with my family as the flag was planted on the lunar surface. It brought chills to us all.
The original studio model of the Starship Enterprise used in the television series "Star Trek" came to the Smithsonian Institution thirty-five years ago, donated by Paramount Studios in 1974. When the television show ended in 1969, the starship had been crated and stored at the studios. Over time, heat, cold, humidity and other elements had taken a toll on the structure, the wiring and other internal components as well as the exterior paint scheme. Before it could be put on exhibit, extensive restoration was required.
A Smithsonian Institution curator whom I greatly admire once said that collecting objects for a museum is a bit like standing next to a river with a bucket. The curator’s task is to gather examples that explain what is important about something (in this analogy, a river), but the curator can only take what fits in the bucket. How do you capture the essence of something large and complex with a sample that is small enough to be preserved and displayed?
Baker, a squirrel monkey, perches on a model of the Jupiter missile that launched her into space on a sub-orbital flight, along with a rhesus monkey named Able, on May 28, 1959 - fifty years ago. Fruit fly larva and sea urchin eggs also accompanied Able and Baker, who both survived the flight; Able, though, died four days after the flight from a reaction to the anesthetic given during surgery to remove an electrode.
I was struck by the relationship between climate change and spaceflight while rereading lately Jared Diamond’s fascinating 2004 book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. The broad premise of Diamond’s book is that societies have collapsed many times in the past and that we may understand how and why this occurred.
One of the best things about working at the National Air and Space Museum is going to the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility every now and then. The museum keeps aircraft that is being restored and artifacts that need special storage conditions–like spacesuits!—out there.