AidSpace Blog

Seven Tips for Visiting the Museum During the Holidays

Posted on

We’re gearing up for one of our busiest times of the year—the holidays! Our team of Visitor Services staff love to talk to visitors during this time. We enjoy learning where you’re visiting from and what made you add our Museum to your already impressively full itinerary. You can find us at the Welcome Center in blue vests, eager to hear your stories.

Now that we’re practically family, we wanted to share some tips to make your visit more enjoyable. We won’t even ask to be invited to your Thanksgiving dinner in return. These tips are a slight update from ones we shared in 2011, although much of our advice remains the same year after year.

The NACA wind tunnel fan in our Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. The Hall remains open while we work on a major renovation of the space. Learn more about the project and what you can see on display.

  1. Plan ahead!
    This will always be our #1 piece of advice. We want you to make the most out of your visit. Use our website to get a feel for what activities you and your family might want to participate in during your time with us. Remember, the Museum has two locations—one in Washington, DC and one in Chantilly, Virginia—with location-specific events. In Washington, we have the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater and the Albert Einstein Planetarium, both with many great shows to choose from. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia has the Airbus IMAX Theater. The Udvar-Hazy Center is the first Museum in the world to feature a dual 4K laser projection system with a 12 discrete channel sound system. This basically means the sharpest, brightest, clearest and most vivid images in town, and it sounds great too. A perfect holiday treat!Of course, both locations have free public programs running every day. We especially recommend planning ahead to join one of our public tours offered at 10:30 am and 1:00 pm daily. The younger members of your family may also enjoy joining a Story Time. If you’re feeling competitive, you can also gather your loved ones for a friendly (or, not-so-friendly) competition in our Simulator rides. The Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory also offers a unique experience the entire family can enjoy (located at the Museum in DC).Reviewing our security procedures ahead of time will also help you avoid any surprises when entering the Museum. For example, we love seeing your selfies on Facebook and Instagram, but please leave those selfie sticks at home!
  1. Utilize public transportation.
    If you’re visiting the Museum in DC, one of our most sincere recommendations is to leave your car at home and utilize public transportation (Metro, especially). This will save you from having to stock up on quarters to pay the parking meters. The Metro is tourist friendly! The nearest stop to the National Air and Space Museum is L’Enfant Plaza.If you’re headed to the Udvar-Hazy Center, remember there is a parking fee of $15. The parking fee is lifted every day at 4:00 pm, but public transportation is also an option.
  1. Come later! (If you can)
    The Museums are generally the busiest between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm. If you want to try to avoid crowds we recommend coming later in the day. It’s common for museums to have extended hours during the holiday season so you may want to plan your timing accordingly. If you have the luxury of being flexible, try visiting the Museum in DC towards the end of the day—especially on a day that we’re open until 7:30 pm. Your visit might be more pleasant and there will (probably) be a shorter line for the restrooms. The same goes for the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is open until 6:30 pm on certain dates.If you’re in DC, consider taking a walk around the monuments after the Museum closes. There’s nothing quite like seeing the Washington Monument in the moonlight. You can do this on foot, on bike, or on a tour bus. If you’re walking, wear comfortable shoes, and be prepared for a 3-mile trek (if you are intending to see the majority of the memorials). The area is safe, but it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings. Most walkways are well lit and fully accessible.
  1. Lunch … or dinner. And breakfast, too.
    No surprise here, museum food courts tend to be the busiest during peak meal times! We recommend eating a big breakfast at home before you come. If you’re eating inside a museum cafeteria you should be prepared for a crowd. If you’re visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center, note that you can leave and return without paying the parking fee a second time—this might be especially appealing if you’re interested in visiting one of the local restaurants for lunch (swing by the Welcome Center if you’d like recommendations from our volunteers).If you’re in DC, a local favorite is to have lunch at the Mitsitam Café, located inside the National Museum of the American Indian (right next door). There aren’t a lot of restaurants immediately near the National Mall, but Chinatown is a 15-minute walk away and has every type of dining experience you can imagine.
  1. Remember we’re open 364 days a year.
    The day after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for us—only slightly less busy than our massive 4th of July crowds. But, don’t worry! We’re open every day except December 25. The days leading up to Christmas are especially pleasant (also convenient for last-minute gifts of spacesuits from our Museum Store!). The crowds pick up again the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  1. Comfort is key.
    Both Museums are bigger than they look. Each of the two floors at the Museum in Washington is three blocks long! And the Udvar-Hazy Center is even larger. Wear comfortable shoes, layers of clothes, and bring water (which is allowed in all Smithsonian museums).
Udvar-Hazy Center

A panoramic view from the Boeing Aviation Hangar Overlook at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

  1. Ask us! No, really. We like it.
    Is there a specific artifact or exhibit you’re looking for? Want to keep the kids happy and busy? Want to plan where you’re headed next? Visit the Welcome Center to talk to a Visitor Services volunteer or staff member. We talk to visitors several hundred times per day (really, we counted!) and are happy to help you with whatever you need.
Welcome Center

The Welcome Center at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC

For help planning your visit, Visitor Services staff and volunteers can be reached at at (202) 633-2214 or send us an email at We’re looking forward to seeing you at the National Air and Space Museum soon!

Sarah daSilva is the visitor services manager at the National Air and Space Museum.

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon

Remembering Robert Willard Farquhar

Posted on

Robert Willard Farquhar
Mission Designer, Flight Director, Deep-Space Navigator

Robert W. Farquhar

Robert W. Farquhar and James L. Green at a 2010 symposium commemorating 25 years of comet discoveries. Image: Paul E. Alers / NASA

Known for devising innovative and intricate spacecraft trajectories, and for his whole-hearted dedication to robotic space exploration, Robert “Bob” Farquhar left a strong impression on the American space program. His career in aerospace began in the late 1950s, at the dawn of the age of interplanetary exploration, and his navigational skills shaped many of America’s deep-space “firsts” during the Space Race and beyond. His work at NASA and at the Applied Physics Laboratory included missions to the planets, comets, and asteroids. His colleagues described his missions as equal parts engineering feats and works of art.

Farquhar’s success at diverting the course of a spacecraft that had accomplished its primary mission and setting it on a new trajectory to accomplish more science, combined with his unwavering persistence, earned him the labels “hacker” and “space cowboy.” In 1978 he helped place the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) at a stable orbital position between the Earth and Sun (libration point L1) to monitor and study space weather, the first spacecraft ever put into such an orbit. In 1982 he sent the ISEE-3 on a second mission. Renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE), its new trajectory sent it through the tail of comet Giacobini-Zinner in 1985 and the tail of Halley’s Comet in 1986. Farquhar also served as flight director of the 1996 Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission, which studied asteroid 433 Eros. He advocated for a mission to Pluto and was mission designer on the recent New Horizons mission to the Kuiper Belt.

While writing his memoir, Fifty Years on the Space Frontier, Farquhar served as the 2007–2008 Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History at the Museum. He shared the 2001 National Air and Space Museum Trophy Award for Current Achievement with his fellow members of the NEAR Mission Team.

Matt Shindell is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon

From the Archives: A Company Thanksgiving

Posted on

Many families have their own Thanksgiving traditions that they faithfully recreate each November—Grandma’s stuffing, Aunt Jean’s serving platter, homemade cranberry sauce, or an insistence upon the canned sauce with ridges. After the meal, it may be nap time or football time. But the most common tradition is cooking and eating a big, fat Thanksgiving turkey.

The collections in the National Air and Space Museum Archives provide a cornucopia of images and information on the history of aviation and spaceflight, some with moments of Thanksgiving cheer. For example, in 1921, President Harding’s turkey arrived via airplane and wearing goggles.

A series of photographs from 1945 found in the John E. Parker Scrapbooks documents the Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation’s turkey giveaway for employees in St. Paul, Minnesota.

First, the barrels of turkeys are off-loaded from the truck at the Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. Image: NASM 9A12175-073-A.

The barrels of turkeys are lined up. Image: NASM 9A12175-072-B

The turkeys are then placed on a pallet for distribution. Image: NASM 9A12175-072-A

The employees wait in line for their turkey. Image: NASM 9A12175-073-B

Finally at the front of the line, it’s turkey time! Image: NASM12175-071-A

Turkeys in hand, Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation employees clock out for the day. There’s a lot of preparation to be done before these turkeys end up on the dinner table. Image: NASM 9A12175-71-B

Enjoy your Thanksgiving traditions. Just remember, it’s not advisable to drop turkeys from a helicopter.

Elizabeth C. Borja is an archivist in the Museum’s Archives Department. She has previously blogged about the Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation’s wooden scrapbook covers and hockey team.

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon

The Tizard Mission – 75 Years of Anglo-American Technical Alliance

Posted on

The Allied Victory in World War II was one of cooperation, not just on the battlefield, but in the laboratory. Microwave radar, jet propulsion, gyroscopic gunsights, and even penicillin were key innovations critical to American military success. All of them shared something in common—the United Kingdom had done much, if not all, of the initial work. The United States neither won World War II by itself, nor did it wholly invent its greatest weapons. The “war-winning” tools of victory had origins in many countries (especially when considering the birthplaces of the atomic scientists in the Manhattan Project, many of whom had fled fascist oppression). If there was a singular moment that defined the transfer of knowledge from abroad that enabled the Allied victory, it was a series of meetings in September and October 1940 that occurred at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC, between American military officials and a team of British scientists and technical leaders headed by Sir Henry Tizard, known as the Tizard Mission.

mission poster

On August 14, 1940, Tizard and Royal Air Force (RAF) Group Captain F.L. Pearce departed England for Washington via Newfoundland on the Shorts Empire C-Class Clare flying boat (a film of the return of the Clare from the mission may be seen here). The previous day was Adler Tag, when the Battle of Britain began in earnest, but it was the rapid fall of France in May and June that resulted in the voyage. British scientists saw great value in establishing a technical exchange with the United States, both as a means of acquiring American advances, but also in the hopes of shoring up a potential ally. Churchill took some convincing, but the Battle of Dunkirk and the surrender of France encouraged him towards the realization that the risks of releasing Britain’s best technical secrets were worth the consequences of an America that would be more competitive in technical fields.

Tizard was the ideal person to lead such an exchange. He had led the committee that recommended radar as the solution to Britain’s air defense concerns, which was arguably the primary reason that Germany failed to overcome the RAF during the Battle of Britain. In 1940, he was chairing Britain’s Aeronautical Research Committee and continued to provide leadership in the development of radar. While radar had developed largely simultaneously in Germany, Britain, and the United States, Britain was on the cusp of implementing a revolutionary new technology—microwave radar—made possible by the invention of the cavity magnetron. The enhanced resolution of microwave radar gave the western allies an enormous technical advantage. For all that has been written of German advantages in jet and rocket propulsion, British and American microwave radar had a far greater impact on the outcome of the war. Microwave radar guided bombers through clouds, located U-boats, pinpointed German aircraft, shot down Buzz Bombs, and guided paratroopers to their D-Day drop zones.

BC-929-A REBECCA Interrogator Indicating Unit
USAAF, 1944

Intended to give transport aircrews range and direction to a para-dropped pathfinder beacon (known as Eureka), this system also proved useful as an IFF transponder.

Like many wartime microwave systems, the Rebecca-Eureka airborne guidance beacon originated as a British Telecommunications Research Establishment project that later benefitted from American advancements in miniaturization and manufacturing.

Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, A19650067000, Gift of Charles L. Neumann

After extensive conversations with Canadian officials, Tizard rejoined the rest of the Mission’s team, who had traveled by ship from England with examples of critical pieces of technology. They revealed the secret of the cavity magnetron to the Americans on September 19, 1941. Over the following weeks, other technical secrets followed. Some of these dialogues resulted directly in amazing joint achievements. One of these was LORAN, which developed when British scientist Edward George Bowen revealed the Gee hyperbolic system to MIT Radiation Laboratory founder Alfred Loomis, who immediately set about developing a much longer range system, along with airborne intercept and gun-laying radars. The latter proved especially effective when married up with the radar proximity fuse. This combination did much to minimize the damage wrought by V-1 Buzz Bombs launched against England in 1944.

Prototype Chaff Cutter
Radio Research Lab, 1942

This was the first American device for making chaff, strips of aluminum foil used to create a countermeasure. It cut 8,000 strips of aluminum per minute. Harold Elliott constructed this demonstration prototype as part of a plan to manufacture millions of thin strands of aluminum chaff at military installations in Great Britain to avoid the security risks of industrial manufacturers.

Industrial manufacture did become necessary as demand for chaff exceeded 3,000 tons. Until that time, over 500 cutters of this type made chaff at American air bases in England to jam German Wurzburg radars.

Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, A20050467000, Gift of Fred Whipple

The Tizard Mission was not simply a delivery of documents and salesman’s samples of technology. Rather, it was beginning of a series of complex bureaucratic interchanges between Britain, its Commonwealth, and the United States that involved military personnel, research labs, academics, and industrialists. While Penicillin came to the U.S. outside of the Tizard Mission, other critical contributions included the basic concept of the atomic bomb, new rockets, plastic explosives, sonar, and gyroscopic gunsights were raised during Tizard’s visit.

Not all went smoothly. Two areas of tension remained. One was the Norden bombsight, which Britain desperately wanted to purchase, and the other was jet propulsion, then under intensive development in Britain. Military commanders advised President Roosevelt to withhold the Norden bombsight out of concerns of it falling into German hands. Given that the sight had specifically been developed to target naval vessels, some felt it would be far more advantageous to the Germans trying to defeat the Royal Navy than it was to the Royal Air Force, who were bombing stationary targets that could theoretically be hit with other types of sights. It was also seen as a political liability with Congress if it were revealed that the United States had allowed its best technical secrets to fall into enemy hands even before the country was at war.

Norden M-9B (Mark XV) Bombsight
USAAF, 1944

Designed by the U.S. Navy, the M-9B became the most well-known bombsight of the twentieth century for its service in all theaters with the U.S. Army Air Forces.

A marvel of technology when it was developed in the early 1930s, the realities of air warfare over Germany and Japan with higher and faster flying aircraft often approached the limits of its capabilities. Nonetheless, it remained the most effective bombsight of the war.

The Norden bombsight was the most contentious technology discussed during the Tizard Mission. Until America’s entry into the war, the Roosevelt administration feared that it could do more damage if it fell into German hands than what it could contribute to British operations. When the United States did release the sight for export to the United Kingdom, it had little benefit for RAF Bomber Command operations flown almost entirely at night.

Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, A19601945000, Transferred from the U.S. Air Force

Likewise, Britain was concerned that jet propulsion was of a longer-term significance and would not provide an immediate military advantage if the United States were to enter the war, but giving the secret away would eventually cost Britain competitive advantages in the postwar economy. Thus during the Tizard Mission, only general details were given to the United States, rather than specific engineering plans or actual components. Nonetheless, America’s entry into the war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor erased nearly all remaining reluctance for technical exchange.

Gloster E.28/39 Pioneer
1/24 Scale

As the first Allied jet aircraft, the E.28/39 was the airborne demonstrator for Sir Frank Whittle’s gas turbines. It made its first flight in May 1941. The Royal Air Force operated two examples into 1943 as they made plans for a jet fighter that went into service in 1944 as the Gloster Meteor.

Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum, A19500083000, Gift of Power Jets, Ltd.

When British or American ships and planes went into combat after 1941, more than a few of the critical components aboard were often conceived, developed, or manufactured in the other’s country. To celebrate this all-too-often overlooked alliance that has persisted to the present day, the embassies of the United Kingdom, Canada, and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (which had been a principal interface with the Tizard Mission in 1940) are hosting a day-long symposium to commemorate the exchange, the present state of Anglo-America-Canadian technical exchange, as well as its future. This symposium will be held at the Embassy of Canada on November 17, 2015, and is open to the public. The National Air and Space Museum will be supporting the event with a small artifact display depicting critical components associated with Tizard Mission technologies (seen in this blog), as well as participating in a panel discussion on the Tizard Mission’s World War II legacy. A schedule of events may be found here.

Roger Connor is a museum specialist in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum. 

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon

Transcribing Apollo Stowage Lists With Help from Volunteers

Posted on

Apollo artifacts have begun to receive increased scrutiny in light of recent discussions about returning humans to the Moon and the upcoming 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo missions. What did astronauts of the 1960s and 1970s bring back from the Moon? What was left behind? And how can we verify the authenticity of any of those objects if they have been or will be recovered? Fortunately, there is a large amount of printed documentation available to help curators, engineers, scientists, and others document, preserve, and interpret those items.

Today, we are publicly launching an exciting initiative to transcribe Apollo stowage lists of all government- and contractor-provided equipment stowed on the Command and Lunar Modules during the six successful Apollo missions to the Moon. With the help of digital volunteers these transcriptions will eventually lead to a reliable and searchable database.

Among the most important artifacts in the Smithsonian’s vast collections are those recovered directly from the Apollo Command Modules after they returned to Earth. As the curator for our Apollo artifacts, I am extremely proud and humbled by my responsibility to care for such historically significant objects. Items like those pictured in this diagram from the Apollo Command Module Operations Handbook have been accepted into our collections and cataloged. Others were expended or left behind during the missions.

Diagram from Apollo Handbook

Diagram from the Apollo Command Module Operations Handbook.

Detailed information about stowed items is recorded in a set of “as flown” stowage lists revised and issued just prior to each mission’s launch. These lists document what items were officially to be stored on the spacecraft, both the Command Module and Lunar Module, and which items were to be transferred from one to another before landing and after rendezvous in lunar orbit following a successful landing. Printed copies of stowage lists from Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 reside in the Museum’s Archives (catalog number: 2015-0018). They, like the Operations Handbook, are available on the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal website.

We have made continual use of the stowage lists over the years. One major challenge, however, stems from the quality of the existing copies. They are extremely difficult to search or sort—whether by object name, part number, or spacecraft storage location. For a long time, we have dreamed of creating a searchable electronic database of this information.

Such a database would retain information about where the items were stowed, when they were to be removed from their original containers, and if and when they were scheduled for transfer from one spacecraft to another (e.g., from the Command Modules to the Lunar Modules and back). Having this, would help us establish detailed histories of objects in our collection. And, we hope, such a database, once we can develop a platform for sharing, will also prove invaluable to others, including those who will be tasked with the awesome responsibility of developing policies for the treatment and possible recovery of Apollo artifacts currently residing on the Moon.

Beginning today, interested digital volunteers with the Smithsonian Institution’s Transcription Center will help us do just that by taking the first step to transcribe the stowage lists. Space enthusiasts can now join the more than 5,600 digital volunteers currently working with the Transcription Center on an extraordinary array of fascinating projects. We are asking them to log in and carefully transcribe more than 1,000 pages of the “as flown” Apollo stowage lists and to review and check the transcriptions for accuracy and consistency. The result, after we make our own careful review, will be a searchable, sortable database we can use and share with others.

This marks the National Air and Space Museum’s first collaboration with the Smithsonian Transcription Center. We are excited to begin this collaboration and hope some of you will become volunteers. If you are interested, it’s easy to get started. Begin by reviewing these instructions at the Transcription Center website, then choose a page to transcribe or review.

We look forward to sharing our progress with you. We tested the system earlier this year with the Apollo 12 stowage lists, which are now complete. Missions will be opened for transcription and review one at a time starting today.

Allan Needell is a curator in the Space History Department.

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon