It’s a tall order to sum up the past year at the National Air and Space Museum in a simple list. We’ve hosted astronauts and record breakers, we’ve moved and conserved dozens of artifacts as we transformed the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall (and discovered some incredible things in the process), and held programs that illuminated the impact of aviation and spaceflight on our everyday lives. Where would I even start?
I propose a compromise: I’ll summarize ten of my favorite events of this past year, then I’m relying on you to suggest yours. Did you have an experience at the Museum this past year that should be on our list? We’re asking you to share your favorite Air and Space moments in the comments. But first, let me get us started with my favorite moments of 2015:
10. Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extra-Vehicular Activity
At the beginning of the year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the world’s first two spacewalks with the opening of Outside the Spacecraft. The temporary exhibition was full of extra-vehicular activity (EVA) objects, like the boots worn by astronaut Gene Cernan when he took the last human steps on the Moon during Apollo 17 and Ed White’s Gemini IV spacesuit. It was also full of beautiful EVA-inspired artwork and a rotating helix that held more than 20 different types of EVA gloves.
We brought the exhibition to visitors outside the Museum walls by creating an online exhibition. We created a virtual version of the rotating glove helix, a Tumblr where artists around the world could submit their own EVA-inspired artwork, and we shared behind-the-scenes stories about creating the exhibition in video interviews. We were elated to learn that the online exhibition won an American Alliance of Museums 2015 MUSE award.
9. Pluto, Pluto, Pluto
Pluto was a big deal this year as the New Horizons spacecraft became the first to fly by the distant dwarf planet after a nine-year journey. We celebrated New Horizon’s successful mission by placing the mock-up spacecraft on display at the Museum in DC near the Pluto discovery plate plus a new temporary addition. Thanks to a generous loan from the Lowell Observatory, we were able to display the very blink comparator used by Clyde Tombaugh to discover Pluto in 1930.
More on the Blog: Finding Pluto With the Blink Comparator
8. Saying Goodbye to the Phrog
We helped celebrate the retirement of the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, also known as the Phrog, after more than 50 years of service. Along with the United States Marine Corps and the National Museum of the Marine Corps, we held a retirement ceremony at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in August. Present at the ceremony was CH-46 helicopter #153369, part of the National Museum of the Marine Corps’ collection, which went on temporary display at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
Just as moving as the ceremony itself was what we heard from former pilots and crew in the days leading up to the event, who said their goodbyes on our blog with comments like this:
Fair winds, Following Seas and Semper FI my friend… You were an integral part of my young adulthood and my life as a Marine!!! you may be in retirement but will never be phorgotten
More on the Blog: Phrog Farewell
7. Milestone Moves
This year we’ve been preparing for the upcoming opening of the renovated Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall (coming July 2016). This has involved moving, cleaning, and conservation work on some iconic artifacts in our collection. The Spirit of St. Louis, which normally hangs from the ceiling, was lowered to the floor for conservation and then went back up a few months later. The same is true for the Bell X-1, SpaceShipOne, Mariner 2, Explorer 1, Pioneer 10, and Sputnik. The Apollo Command Module Columbia, Mercury Friendship 7, and Gemini IV capsules had their plexiglass covers removed for the first time in decades, giving a clearer view of the spacecraft and delighting many visitors who told us they enjoyed the chance to take better photos. We even moved the Lunar Module 2 from one side of the building to the other.
While all of this moving posed some interesting challenges, it also provided us with an opportunity to view our artifacts in a completely new way. The discoveries we made because of this were a highlight of this year. During conservation of the Spirit of St. Louis, we found a pair of period-correct pliers hidden in the aircraft. We also discovered something new about the Lunar Module 2; all over the artifact are NASA stamps that provide us with clues about the object’s complex history.
More on the Blog: The New Milestones
6. WWII Fly Over and Fly-In
On May 8, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of VE-Day in an extraordinary way. Around noon more than 50 World War II aircraft flew over the nation’s capital in 15 separate formations including one warbird that carried our director, Gen. John Dailey. Organized by the Arsenal of Democracy, it was extraordinary to see WWII aircraft in flight.
The next day we continued to commemorate WWII at “Fly-In to Victory Day” at the Udvar-Hazy Center, where several of the Flyover aircraft were on display, joined by swing dancers and even WWII reenactors.
More on the Blog: Bringing History to Life: Honoring Our World War II Veterans
5. Armstrong Purse
This year we took a closer look at a white cloth bag discovered in a closet by Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong’s wife. The bag, known as a McDivitt purse, contained objects that Mrs. Armstrong thought may be of interest to the Museum. Indeed, they were. Curator Allan Needell and conservator Lisa Young examined the contents carefully and were able to determine they had flown on Apollo 11.
The objects were not originally slated to make the return trip to Earth. In mission transcripts Armstrong says to Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins about the bag, “You know, that — that one’s just a bunch of trash that we want to take back — LM parts, odds and ends, and it won’t stay closed by itself. We’ll have to figure something out for it.”
More on the Blog: The Armstrong Purse: Flown Apollo 11 Lunar Artifacts
4. Rebooting Neil Armstrong’s Suit
Speaking of Neil Armstrong, this summer we launched the Smithsonian’s very first Kickstarter campaign, Reboot the Suit, to conserve, digitize, and display the astronaut’s Apollo 11 spacesuit.
Within days we met our goal, and by the end of the month 9,477 backers had pledged $719,779. Beyond reaching our goal, it was fantastic to hear from so many of you about how the Apollo program impacted your lives. See some of the videos from the campaign.
More on the Blog: #RebootTheSuit: Your Apollo 11 Stories
3. Hey Chuck Yeager
Chuck Yeager stopped by. Yes, the first man to exceed the speed of sound in the Bell X-1, Glamorous Glennis, popped in to visit the aircraft that helped him accomplish that amazing feat in 1947. Many staff were sure to find reasons to be on the first floor to see the legend, and based on the whispers cutting across the crowd in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, we weren’t the only ones excited to see him.
More on the Blog: Chuck Yeager
2. Star Trek Advisory Group
There were plenty of opportunities to geek out over Star Trek this year due to our ongoing project to conserve and restore the Enterprise studio model. Creating a special advisory group for the project was especially exciting. The group, a “Who’s Who” in the industry, has agreed to help advise on the treatment and restoration of the studio model.
Mike Okuda, lead graphic designer for four Star Trek TV shows and seven Trek movies and a member of our advisory group, became one of our first guest bloggers, writing about his experience visiting the model in our Conservation Laboratory.
More on the Blog: Nerd Camp
1. Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet
Who knew displaying a loaned object would have such an impact? On April 1, we announced we had put Wonder Woman’s invisible jet on display in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, a loan from The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. The story on our blog about the display and a video of the aircraft being cleaned spread across the web like wildfire. As of today, our Wonder Woman story is one of our most read posts of all time.
More on the Blog: Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet Now on Display
There you have it, my top ten moments of 2015, but certainly there are more. Was your favorite memory on the list? Maybe it was the acquisition of the Arthur C. Clarke collection, or celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope, or that time you saw a clip of our webcast series STEM in 30 on Conan. Whatever it is, now is your turn to share. Tell us your favorite Air and Space memory of 2015 and we’ll keep them coming in 2016.
Jenny Wiley Arena is digital content manager at the National Air and Space Museum