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Sat, December 17 2016

Around the World on an Envelope

December 17 marks the date of the first flight of Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1903. As part of the 46th anniversary festivities in 1949, the Air Force Association (AFA) arranged for Colonel Thomas Lanphier to fly around the world on American commercial airlines, demonstrating the efficiency of American airlines and emphasizing the rapid growth of aviation technology in the years since the first flight at Kitty Hawk.

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Air Force Association Wright Brothers 46th Anniversary Air Mail Envelope, 1949
Fri, December 16 2016

Interview with Record Breaker Alan Eustace

On display at our Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, is 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.   

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Alan Eustace Suit
Thu, December 15 2016

Reaction Motors: 75th Anniversary

On December 18, 1941, 11 days after Pearl Harbor, four young members of the American Rocket Society (ARS)—James Wyld, John Shesta, H. Franklin Pierce, and Lovell Lawrence Jr.—officially incorporated Reaction Motors, Inc. (RMI), in New Jersey. The timing was no coincidence: it was one of many patriotic actions Americans took after suddenly finding themselves fighting a war. RMI, which was created to offer assisted-take-off rockets to the military aviation branches, was the first successful American company devoted to liquid-propellant rocketry. In its 31-year lifespan, it developed rocket engines of noteworthy importance, especially for pioneering X-planes. 

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James Hart Wyld
Wed, December 14 2016

An Unlikely Comparison: A Subway Car, the Enterprise, and Mir Space Station

“Doors Closing!” 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.

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Inside the Mir Space Station
Fri, December 9 2016

Remembering My Friend and Hero John Glenn

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.

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Remembering My Friend and Hero John Glenn

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General J.R. Dailey and Senator John Glenn
Thu, December 8 2016

Remembering Senator John Herschel Glenn Jr.

On February 20, 1962, John Glenn, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, became the first American to orbit the Earth. His service to his country did not begin or end there, however. A U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot, Glenn was decorated veteran of two wars, a U.S. Senator for Ohio, and an astronaut again when he traveled into space for the second time in 1998. He was also a great friend of the National Air and Space Museum.

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John Glenn with His Mercury Friendship 7 Capsule
Thu, December 8 2016

What Would an Alien Spaceship Look Like?

What would a spacecraft carrying aliens to first contact with Earth look like? In Arrival (2016), director Denis Villeneuve’s creative imagination of alien ships arriving at Earth, 12 large, dark, smooth, elongated ships hover effortlessly, without any visible means of propulsion, over far-flung sites on Earth. In response, in the United States, the military and the State Department engage linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to help communicate with the inhabitants. The spaceships themselves present an appearance as inscrutable as the aliens themselves initially are. When the team led by Colonel GT Weber (Forest Whitaker) enters one of them, the roughly textured surfaces of the exterior and walls suggest wear or aging but offer no specific clues about the interior, the ship’s inhabitants, or, most important, their intentions. The resulting narrative of first contact, adapted as a screenplay by Eric Heisserer from a short story by Ted Chiang, proves satisfying, offering a thoughtful consideration of language, communication, and meaning.

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Mother Ship Model - Close Encounters of the Third Kind at Udvar-Hazy Ctr
Wed, December 7 2016

The Complicated Lead Up to Pearl Harbor

Today, on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Curator Laurence Burke took a step back and explored the long and complicated history that led up to the Japanese attack. Burke, to an audience outside the Museum’s Sea-Air Operations gallery, said the story of Pearl Harbor often focuses on the events of December 7, 1941, but not what happened before the day that President Roosevelt called, “a date which will live in infamy.” To understand Pearl Harbor, Burke took the audience back to 1853-1854 when U.S. Naval Captain Matthew C. Perry sailed to Japan and negotiated the opening of Japanese ports for trade. After more than 200 years of self-imposed isolation, Japan wanted to engage with the rest of the world.  

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Attack on Pearl Harbor
Tue, December 6 2016

Short Life Span

Because of inadequate heat resistant materials, the average life span of the first jet engines were only 25 hours at best. Today’s jet engines run 3,000 to 5,000 hours before they require an overhaul. Following this routine maintenance procedure, they can continue operating tens of thousands of hours.

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Short Life Span

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Technician Working on an Airacomet Engine
Mon, December 5 2016

Exploring the History of our Chinese Kite Collection

In 1876, after the dust from the United States’ first World’s Fair and Centennial Exposition settled on the grounds of Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, the Smithsonian Institution’s collections expanded exponentially. Sixty boxcars filled with art, mechanical inventions, and other materials from many of the 37 countries who participated in the Exposition pulled into Washington, DC as gifts for a brand new museum.

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Original loan photograph

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