AidSpace Blog

Inside the Sally K. Ride Papers – Now Open for Research

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color portrait of Sally Ride with signature

A signed photograph of Sally Ride. Image: National Air and Space Museum, NASM 9A12598

Last October, we announced that we had acquired the collection of Sally K. Ride, the first American woman in space. Now, we can share that the archival portion of the collection has been processed and is available for research! See our finding aid for more detailed information.

The Sally K. Ride collection consists of more than 23 cubic feet of papers, photographs, certificates, and film created or collected by Ride chronicling her career from the 1970s through the 2010s. The papers document Ride’s lifetime of professional achievements and include material relating to her astronaut training and duties; her contributions to space policy; her work as a physicist; and her work as an educator.

A significant portion of the collection highlights her iconic role as a NASA astronaut from 1978 to 1987. Ride spent 343 hours in space, as a mission specialist on space shuttle missions STS-7 and STS-41G, where she operated a variety of orbiter systems and experiment payloads. She also operated the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) arm to maneuver, release, and retrieve a free-flying satellite.

color portrait of Sally Ride with signature

Here is the cover of Ride’s STS-7 ascent checklist. Image: National Air and Space Museum, NASM 2016-00309

color portrait of Sally Ride with signature

An inside view of another of Ride’s manuals, the PDRS Operations Checklist for space shuttle mission STS-7, including a drawing which highlights the RMS arm and features annotations by Ride. Image: National Air and Space Museum, NASM 9A12468

But Ride’s NASA’s career and legacy extend well beyond her missions in space. Ride was training for her third flight when the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred and she was named to the Rogers Commission, the presidential commission investigating the accident. Ride later served on the Columbia Accident Board as well. She was the only person assigned to both shuttle disaster committees that investigated the causes and recommended remedies after the tragic losses.

color portrait of Sally Ride with signature

Two pages from one of the notebooks Ride kept containing her notes from the Challenger accident meetings. Image: National Air and Space Museum NASM-9A12458

In 1987, Ride left NASA to become a full-time educator. The collection mirrors those professional changes with material relating to her work as a physics professor at University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and later endeavors to improve science education for elementary and middle school students, with a special focus on science education for girls.

The Museum is proud to play a role in securing Ride’s legacy by making this collection available to researchers for years to come. And, on a personal note, it was a wonderful honor to process the papers. I leave you with my favorite image from the collection. It shows a very young Sally Ride looking at a book. A “thought bubble” caption has been adhered to the photo as though Ride is reading a technical manual. I found this image attached on the inside cover of one of her STS-7 manuals.

color portrait of Sally Ride with signature

Image: National Air and Space Museum, NASM-9A1246

Patti Williams is the acquisition archivist for the National Air and Space Museum

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Crossing the Atlantic in a Wicker Chair

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If you were going to fly non-stop for 33½ hours, what kind of chair would you want to sit in?

For Charles Lindbergh, it was this simple wicker chair. The Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis was a modified version of the Ryan M-2 aircraft created specifically for the long flight from New York to Paris. In an effort to save weight, Lindbergh opted for this wicker seat for the historic flight. Discover more about the Ryan NYP Sprit of St. Louis.

Inside the Spirit of St. Louis

Tom Paone is a Museum Technician in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum.

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A New Home for an Old Glove

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Who would think that a damaged, old leather glove, with the thumb badly torn, could be a valuable item? But if that damaged glove belonged to Luftwaffe pilot Günther Rall, with 275 aerial victories and the third highest scoring ace in aviation history, then it becomes an item of unique historic value. And now that item has found a home at the National Air and Space Museum. In addition to the glove, the Museum also received Rall’s diary from 1942, documenting his actions at the Eastern Front, and a portrait of the pilot in summer 1945, created by another prisoner of war, Wolfgang Willrich, during their time in captivity in Fouquainville, France.

Painted portrait of Gunther Rall.

This portrait of Günther Rall as prisoner of war was painted by fellow prisoner, Wolfgang Willrich, in early summer 1945 in France.

Günther Rall was born in 1918 at the end of World War I and became a pilot with the Luftwaffe in 1938. During World War II, he fought in the skies over France, Great Britain, Yugoslavia, Greece, Russia, and later in the air defense over Germany against the American and British strategic bombardment campaign—always flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109. In November 1941, after 37 air victories, Rall was shot down for the first time and rescued by a German tank crew, his back broken in three places. Told that he would never be able to walk (let alone fly) again, Rall returned to combat just one year later.

In April 1944, Major Günther Rall was made Group Commander of the 2nd group of Fighter Wing 11, defending the skies over Germany against the overwhelming powers of the Allied Air Forces. At that time, the Allies had seven to 10 times more aircraft in the air over Germany than Germany did. Even worse, U.S. pilots had about 400 flight hours of training when they were sent into battle, while German pilots, due to lack of instructors and fuel, had almost none. Many of these young, inexperienced German pilots were shot down before their 10th sortie.

Messerschmitt Me 109 airplane

The Museum’s Messerschmitt Bf 109. Image: Dane Penland, National Air and Space Museum

On May 12, 1944, Rall led his group against an American air raid. His pilots flew two different aircraft. Some flew Me 109s with engines equipped with special chargers to allow them to reach altitudes of 8,000 to 10,000 meters where they were able to attack the P-51 Mustang and P-47 Thunderbolts that protected Allied bomber units. Other pilots flew Fw 190s and attacked the lower-flying U.S. bomber aircraft. Rall shot down two Thunderbolts, but then other P-47s arrived. One of them fired at Rall’s Me 109. Bullets from a .50 caliber machine gun hit his cockpit, his engine, his cooler, and his left hand at the control stick, shooting his thumb. The glove donated to the Museum is the very glove worn by Rall during that engagement, and it clearly shows the damage from the machine gun round. Günther Rall bailed out and landed in a field. He was taken to a hospital and his left thumb amputated. Due to the onset of infections he was not able to fly for months.

Günther Rall’s glove with the torn thumb

Günther Rall’s glove with the torn thumb, result of the air attack on May 12, 1944.

The air battles of that day marked the beginning of a systematic U.S. offensive against the German fuel industry, one of the weakest links in the German war economy. The 8th and 9th USAAF with 886 bombers, and 980 accompanying fighters, flew attacks against refineries and production sites for synthetic fuel in the heart of Germany. Facing heavy German resistance, the U.S. lost 46 bombers and 12 fighters. On the German side, 28 pilots were killed and 26 wounded that day, among them was the entirety of Rall’s group. Later, Albert Speer, Reich Minister of Armament and War Production, would declare: “On that day, the fate of Germany’s technical warfare was decided.”

In November 1944, Rall returned to active duty. He spent the last months of the war with Fighter Wing 300, which mostly sat idly due to lack of fuel and supplies. At the end of the war, after 621 missions flown, 275 confirmed aerial victories, shot down eight times, and wounded three, Rall became a prisoner of war of the American Forces. Released in August 1945, he had to adjust to a civilian life and became a representative for the Siemens Company. In 1956, he joined the newly established Armed Forces of the Federal Republic in the rank of a Major of the Luftwaffe. He was put in charge of modifying the F-104 fighter jet for Luftwaffe’s requirements and worked his way to the position of Luftwaffe’s Inspector General, a rank he held from 1971 to 1974. That year, he was made the German military representative in NATO’s Military Committee at Brussels, with the rank of a Lieutenant General.

Photograph portrait of Günther Rall

Rall as Luftwaffe’s Inspector General in the early 1970s. Image: German Federal Archive, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J1112-0206-004 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

In 1977, Günther Rall visited a meeting of U.S. fighter pilots. While inquiring about the 1944 incident where he lost his thumb, he learned that he had encountered the notorious “Wolf Pack” on that fateful day in 1944, the 56th Fighter Group under Col. Hubert Hub Zemke. Zemke’s pilots were by far the most successful American fighter group in the European theatre, and Zemke himself was known as a supreme tactician. From that meeting, a close friendship developed between Rall, Hub Zemke, Zemke’s 2nd Lieutenant Robert “Shortie” Rankin, and other U.S. pilots. During his visits to the U.S., Rall frequently gave talks about his life as a pilot, often together with U.S. pilots like Hub Zemke or Chuck Yeager. In May 1996, he joined the Gathering of Eagles at the Museum and talked about his war time experiences. In 2003, he was made an honorary member of the prestigious Society of Experimental Test Pilots, and one year later published his memoirs, Mein Flugbuch [edited by Kurt Braatz, Moosburg/Germany: Edition NeunundzwanzigSechs]. In them, the third-highest scoring ace of all time said:

“Nothing is further from my mind than to join into the praise for the last Knights of the Air which you hear so often when people talk about World War II fighter pilots. The sober truth […] is that we fought each other for life and death, although we wanted nothing but to live, and that these fights became the more relentless the longer this terrible war lasted. […] War is not the continuation of politics with other means, but an infamy; it is the utter failure of political action.”

Photograph portrait of Günther Rall

Günther Rall (center) at the Museum during a National Air and Space Society lecture in May 1996.

Günther Rall died in 2009. The Museum plans to incorporate his glove, his diary, and his portrait in a new exhibition on World War II.

Evelyn Crellin is the curator for European Aviation in the Museum’s Aeronautics Department

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Well, is it Flak Bait or Flak-Bait?

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As the curator for the Museum’s Martin B-26B Marauder, I’ve become obsessed with the proper way to designate the name given to it by its first pilot Jim Farrell in August 1943. It all centers on the pesky use of a hyphen. Is it Flak Bait or Flak-Bait? You see both in archival documents, historical references and books, and all over the internet. Which one is correct? In my quest to get that one detail right, I learned that the use of the term “flak bait” referred to more than just the name of the World War II, medium bomber that is now undergoing preservation treatment in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

American aircrew that were going into combat would describe themselves as “flak bait,” meaning they were at the mercy of enemy anti-aircraft artillery. “Flak,” which was short for the German fliegerabwehrkanone, or literally “flyer defense cannon,” was the primary threat to bomber crews over their targets. U.S. Army Air Forces Ninth Air Force medium bomber crews, specifically those flying the B-26 Marauder, adopted that name collectively for themselves as they risked their lives over Nazi-occupied Europe.

Two Marauders in flight with black flak bursts

The black splotches that you see in this 1944 image of two B-26s over Germany are flak bursts. The bigger one in front of the lower Marauder is especially frightening because it is very close to the B-26 from which this photograph was taken. Image: Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, NASM 9A12291

Blue book cover

Devon Francis’ 1948 classic book Flak Bait captures the story of the Marauders and the crews that flew them during World War II.

Inside page of book

Francis’ book includes the history of the Ninth over Europe and the Museum’s artifact in particular.

At least three other American aircraft went into battle over Europe with the name Flak Bait in World War II. A Douglas C-47 Dakota in the 437th Troop Carrier Group of the Ninth was one. Lt. Bill Barlow of the 353rd Fighter Group in the Eighth Air Force named his Republic P-47D Thunderbolt Flak Bait because it always came back from a mission with a few holes somewhere on the airframe. I also found one mention of an Eighth Air Force Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress that carried the name.

Does anyone have a personal connection with these aircraft, have any more details, or know of any other World War II aircraft that flew with the name Flak Bait?

How did the Museum’s B-26 get its name? Pilot Jim Farrell took inspiration from the nickname his brother gave to Boots the family dog back home, “Flea Bait,” and adapted it to reflect the combat environment over Western Europe.

Inside page of book

The Museum’s Martin B-26B Marauder Flak-Bait. Image: Eric Long, Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, NASM-SI-97-15363

With the approval of the crew, Farrell took those two words and sketched them popping out of a flak burst. Squadron artist Ted Simonaitis painted the now iconic nose art in yellow, red, and white on the left forward fuselage. See the narrow hyphen between “Flak” and “Bait?” While combat crews rightly called themselves “flak bait” and there were other aircraft that carried the name, there is only one Flak-Bait, the airplane that flew more missions than any other American aircraft during World War II.

Jeremy Kinney is a curator in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum.

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Volunteers Help Keep Museum Objects Clean

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When visitors enter our Museum, many are awed by the number of artifacts that are on display. We’re often asked, “How do you manage to keep everything clean?” That is a terrific question, especially since there are more than 6,000 artifacts on display at any time on the floor or hanging overhead, with more being added each year.

Cleaning and inspecting the artifacts is critical to preserving the Museum’s collection. Dust is one of our biggest challenges since it can affect the condition of the artifacts that are on display. It accumulates on the artifacts and retains moisture from the surrounding air which can cause corrosion. Airborne salts from road treatments, abrasive particles from soil, and organic material from visitors all add to the mix. If left alone, the dust and other dirt can permanently damage the artifacts by staining, etching, or corroding surfaces. It is a continual concern for the Museum since the care of the collection is the highest priority.

To combat this, the Museum has three sources for inspecting the artifacts and keeping them clean: a small contracting team, a small full-time crew, and a team of about 18 volunteers comprised of docents and visitors services personnel. The teams work behind the scenes early in the morning at the Museum in Washington, DC and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia to inspect and clean each artifact on a rotating cycle. Most artifacts are inspected and cleaned about every three to four months. The results are cataloged by the cleaning crews so that a history is maintained for each cleaning session, and the records become a part of the Museum’s official archives.

Volunteer vacuums wing of Wright Flyer.

Volunteer David Boggs carefully removes dust from the replica 1908 Wright Flyer in the Boeing Aviation Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Close-up photo of volunteer using a brush and vacuum on artifact.

Volunteer Gary Connor uses a soft brush and vacuum to remove layers of dust from the spar assembly for the Apollo Telescope Mount. The telescope mount is now on display in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Four volunteers clean the underside of an artifact.

Volunteers Bob Thompson, Bob Monday, Larry Grube and Scott Willey clean the Apollo Telescope Mount Collar.

In addition to cleaning, the crews photograph problems or damage that they encounter to ensure that the collections staff and curators can get a glimpse of the problem and determine if it’s something that needs their immediate attention. The photos also provide a pictorial history of any changes to previously reported conditions. The volunteer cleaning team also helps in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar by assisting the conservation and restoration staff in preparing artifacts for display at the Museum in Washington, DC and at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

The crews spend nearly 2,000 hours each year cleaning the artifacts. This helps the Museum avoid additional costs. It is also a source of great personal satisfaction to the cleaning teams — they realize that they are trusted to care for some of the nation’s most historic air and space artifacts and that they are contributing to their preservation and longevity for future generations to enjoy.

David Burns is a volunteer at the National Air and Space Museum.

April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month. The National Air and Space Museum has more than 900 volunteers! Find out more about volunteering with us.



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