On February 11 of this year, when scientists announced that they had detected gravitational waves, I was among the thousands of people who were so excited we couldn’t sit still. This news was literally Earth-shaking! Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time, and they’re created by events like the collision of massive objects, such as black holes.
So of course, being an astronomy educator, I took the first opportunity to talk about this news with visitors at the Museum. The day after the announcement, I set up our black holes Discovery Station, which uses a rubber sheet to demonstrate how space-time gets warped by massive objects. I created my own “gravitational waves” by tapping on the rubber sheet to make it vibrate, like ripples on a pond.
Midway through the afternoon, a man came up to the Discovery Station and was interested to see that I was connecting the activity to the previous day’s big news. This visitor turned out to be University of Oregon physicist Dr. Robert Schofield, a member of the LIGO science team that had made the discovery! I spent 20 fascinated minutes asking him tons of questions, and his animated explanations were nothing short of amazing. How often do you get that kind of opportunity?!
Little did I know that the best part of the conversation would come at the end. Standing there in the Explore the Universe gallery, which tells the story of humans and astronomy, Dr. Schofield said that he grew up here in Washington, DC, and he used to be one of the kids running around these exhibits. Then he looked me in the eye and said, “It was this Museum, and people like you, that grew my interest in science.”
WOW. That is the education equivalent of winning the Olympic gold medal. What a great example of the impact museums can have on people’s lives! Dr. Schofield went on to describe the value of seeing the “real thing” in person, and how as a physics student he would come to the Museum to study the instruments on display because details about the way an object was made, and how it was used, don’t all come through in a picture or textbook. Those real-life observations were crucial throughout Dr. Schofield’s education as they helped him to fully understand the scientific principles that underlie everything he does now.
I was completely blown away by our conversation. Here’s a person whose research has changed the world, and he’s telling me that the work my colleagues and I do is what got him excited about science. That is the single most excellent thing that any educator can ever hope to hear.
I see hundreds of Museum visitors daily, usually for less than five minutes, when I’m running educational programs. I watch their eyes light up when they learn something really cool. I notice them pull out a phone to look up concepts we’ve been talking about. I smile as I recognize that their Museum visit, and their interaction with me, makes a difference for at least that moment. But I almost never get to follow up and find out what kind of long-term effect it has on their interests, career aspirations, or life paths. But on February 12, 2016, I got the rare gift of unequivocal validation that the work we do at the Museum really matters and can make a profound difference for someone. There is no greater reward than that!
The black holes Discovery Station is often set up in the Explore the Universe gallery, located on the first floor at the Museum in Washington, DC. You can also visit the black holes Discovery Station this weekend at our annual Explore the Universe Day, Saturday, April 9 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.
Shauna Edson is an astronomy educator at the National Air and Space Museum.
It’s April and baseball is back!!! Americans’ love of baseball can be found throughout the National Air and Space Museum Archives’ collections. Members of the military visited baseball teams to compare equipment and even demonstrated the flexibility of spacesuits on the ball field. Baseball teams began to charter their own flights between games. And everywhere, even on a military base in India, you could find a baseball game!
The employees of Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation in Minnesota, in addition to building up to 15 gliders a day for the war effort, developed their own recreational league, which included bowling, basketball, hockey, and, of course, softball teams.
These teams took their league play quite seriously and the employee newsletter Tow Lines published the standings in each issue. The John E. Parker Collection only holds a few issues of Tow Lines, but the August 1943 issue provides insight into the corporation’s softball league. The best team that year was the Stores Gremlins, with a 7-1 record and a .426 team batting average that would put Ted Williams to shame.
The names of the other teams in the league were the Bombers (5-3 record), Accounting (3-5), Question Marks (3-5), and Final Assembly (3-5). The plant affiliations of several of the teams can be inferred from their names, but the Question Marks remain a, well, you know.
All of the plant’s recreational teams were provided for by proceeds from candy vending machines. The newsletter cautioned, “Don’t treat ’em too rough, boys, if you enjoy your game of softball.” But candy was definitely not the post-game refreshment of choice.
Get your cold drinks, hot dogs, and Cracker Jack and enjoy this season of baseball!
Stardate 1604.01: At 12:01 am EDT this morning, the National Air and Space Museum began breeding tribbles. This bold, innovative, not-at-all-ill-advised experiment will run for 24 hours, until 11:59 pm tonight, allowing Museum specialists to study the galaxy’s most adorable ecological disaster in greater detail than ever before. The tribble trial utilizes five original specimens of the species Polygeminus grex from the original Star Trek television series, donated to the Museum in 1973.
Today’s tribble breeding pilot project is in celebration of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. “After 50 years, we decided it was time to bring the tribble back! So, we worked with several specialized veterinary schools and zoos in order to create a special diet and then it was easy—we just fed them and let nature take its course,” said Dr. Margaret Weitekamp, curator of the Museum’s Social and Cultural Dimensions of Spaceflight collection. A 24-hour, live tribble cam will monitor the project. The Museum is also completing conservation work on the original 3-meter (11-foot) studio model of the Enterprise used in all 79 episodes of the original series. Museum conservators are working to stabilize the model and return it to its appearance from the 1967 episode The Trouble with Tribbles. The Enterprise will go back on public display in the new Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in time for the Museum’s 40th birthday in July.
Tribbles are insatiable eaters, devouring any available foodstuff in amounts seemingly disproportionate to their mass. They also propagate at an exponential rate. On their homeworld of Iota Germinorum V, the tribble population is kept in check by numerous tribble-vorous reptiles. But the species has no known natural predators at the Museum, hence the strict 24-hour limit on the breeding program. “Any longer and we could have a population explosion on our hands,” said STEM in 30 host Marty Kelsey, who calculated that the tribble tribe could reach 1,771,561 fur-balls in just 72 hours, adding that, “things could get hairy in a hurry without the proper controls, even in one of the world’s most popular museums.” For comparison, the National Air and Space Museum welcomed 8.5 million humans in 2015.
Tribbles have a soothing effect on humans, purring and cooing when stroked. This makes them attractive as pets, despite their rapacious rate of reproduction. General Jack Dailey, the Museum’s John and Adrienne Mars Director, agreed, “I was skeptical. I’m more of a dog person. But now that they’re here, I’ve warmed up to these little critters. The whole staff is taking to them quite well. With the busy, everyday challenges of running one of the world’s most popular museums, the tribbles seem to have a calming effect. They’re a wonderful work companion.”
Klingons are a notable exception to the tribbles’ tranquilizing effects, and the two species clash violently in close quarters. Klingons still sing songs of the Great Tribble Hunt, an attempt to rid the galaxy of their vexing enemy once and for all. The program has already paid dividends, revealing an alleged Klingon spy operating within the Museum for decades. The accused agent, Chief Curator Peter Jakab, denies charges of espionage but became noticeably defensive when asked about his lack of distinctive Klingon forehead ridges. “We do not discuss it with outsiders,” said the renowned aviation historian and presumed extraterrestrial warrior, likely en route back to Kronos.
Apart from tracking the tribble’s prodigious propagation, the program will explore practical uses for the creatures. Previous proposals include military and intelligence-gathering applications (such as a tribble bomb or Klingon detector) or as a viable source of food. The menu of Paris’ Café des Artistes includes Tribbles dans les Blankettes (tribbles in a blanket), though some have found the dish gauling. Others have suggested that they be considered as souvenirs for Museum visitors. Detractors consider the creatures about as useful as an ermine violin, soft and furry with a pleasing sound but serving no particular purpose. But while they neither toil nor spin, tribbles have a bright future in sustainable energy, according to STEM in 30 host Beth Wilson. “When you shuffle your socks across the carpet and then shock your brother with the built-up static electricity, that’s the triboelectric effect,” she explained. “The tribbles’ triboelectric potential could provide an energy source that’s 100% clean, apart from the shedding.”
UPDATE: At press time, the number of tribbles has exceeded the Museum’s expectations and contingency plans are in effect. Dr. Weitekamp is unavailable for comment, and is working with contractor Cyrano Jones to acquire a supply of glommers, creatures specially designed to devour surplus tribbles. Preparations are also being made to transport excess specimens to the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. Asked for comment, a Zoo spokesperson said that it would be “no tribble at all. How many could there be?”
Nick Partridge is a public affairs specialist at the National Air and Space Museum, but has not been seen since tribbles overran the communications office. He was last spotted wearing a red shirt.
Documented in our National Aeronautic Association collection is the 1961 All Woman’s International Air Race that ended in Nassau, Bahamas on May 29. The race hosted 21 contestants over a 909-kilometer (565-mile), island-hopping route. The Ninety-Nines, a group of women pilots formed just a few months after the first Women’s National Air Derby in 1929, helped to organize and manage the race.
This is just one of the many womens’ air races documented in the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) collection. The collection also holds NAA organizational records, Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) license cards, business records, minutes, and correspondence. Learn more about our collection of National Aeronautic Association records.
Tyler Love is an archivist at the National Air and Space Museum and has processed more than 10 different collections including our Arthur C. Clarke collection. Tyler will be sharing more highlights from these collections in the future.
Women’s History Month in the United States began as Women’s History Week in 1982. The event was expanded to the entire month of March in 1987. Throughout the past month, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Air and Space Museum, have sponsored many events for Women’s History Month. On March 28, 1988, just the second official Women’s History Month, an all-female Air Force flight crew flew a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy across the Atlantic Ocean to commemorate the month.
The C-5 crew that flew from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware consisted of 17 women from the 436th Military Airlift Wing and the 512th Military Airlift Wing (Reserve-Associate), as well as two artists and a photographer. The commander of the flight was Captain Gayle I. Westbrook, who had already made Dover history as the wing’s first female C-5 pilot in 1985. Two years later, she was the first female C-5 pilot to be certified as an aircraft commander.
The seven day airlift mission for the C-5 crew took them from Dover to Charleston Air Force Base, South Carolina; RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom; Incirlik Air Base, Turkey; and, finally, to Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany.
These women followed a similar flight path to the Air Force’s first all-female flight crew to fly an overseas mission in May 1983 (just one year after the first Women’s History Week). Seven women from the 18th Military Airlift Squadron flew a Lockheed C-141B from McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, to Lajes Field in the Azores, completing the flight at Rhein-Main Air Force Base. The exercise, in addition to evacuating seriously ill American service personnel and family from West Germany to treatment in Washington, DC, was designed to demonstrate the importance and growing presence of women in airborne operations.
In a New York Times article, Capt Guiliana Sangiorgio, the commander of the mission, stated: “I don’t know if this earns us a place in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records,’ but it’s a big first for the service, and certainly a big accomplishment for us.” She continued, “But the novelty of women flying will wear off in time, and we’ll be better off when it does.”
Copilot 1st Lieutenant Terri Ollinger reflected, “The Air Force has come a long way in accepting women in job fields where only men have been considered in the past. The Air Force has a long way to go yet in continuing to place women in positions of responsibility and career fields, but everything has to start with a crawl before it can move on to a run.” Thirty years later, in 2016, it has just been announced that Air Force General Lori Robinson has been nominated to head U.S. Northern Command, the first American woman to ever head a combatant command.
Elizabeth C. Borja is an archivist in the Museum’s Archives Department.