AidSpace Blog

The Big Jump

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Felix Baumgartner

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria jumps out from the capsule during the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico on October 14, 2012. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Stratos.

The National Air and Space Museum boasts an extraordinary collection of record setting balloon baskets and gondolas. There is Explorer II, which carried U.S. Army Air Corps Captains Albert W. Stevens and Orvil Anderson to a record altitude of (22,066 meters) 72,395 feet on November 11, 1935. In August 1978, Maxie Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman made the first balloon crossing of the Atlantic in Double Eagle II. Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones flew Breitling Orbiter III on the first non-stop flight around the world in 1999. Steve Fossett made the first solo balloon circumnavigation of the globe three years later in his Spirit of Freedom.

The Museum will welcome a new record setter into its collection on April 2, 2014, when the capsule that carried Austrian parachutist Felix Baumgartner to an altitude of 39,044 meters (128,100 feet) over Roswell, New Mexico, and the pressure suit and parachute that brought him safely back to Earth on an earlier jump from 29,455 meters (96,640 feet), will go on display as part of a two-month temporary exhibition called, Red Bull Stratos: Mission to the Edge of Space. Both the capsule and the pressure suit and parachute that Baumgartner wore on the 39,044-meter (128,100-foot) jump will become a part of our permanent collection and will be displayed at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center after the closing of the temporary show on May 26.

Felix Baumgartner

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria prepares to jump from the altitude of 29455 meters during the second manned test flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico on July 25, 2012. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Stratos.

Baumgartner, a veteran of the Austrian military, had earned a reputation as one of world’s most experienced sky divers and BASE jumpers, an activity in which participants parachute from Buildings, Antennae, Spans (bridges) and high elevations on Earth. In 1990 he set the world record for jumping from a building when he parachuted over (366 meters) 1,200 feet from the top of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, then the tallest building in the world.  When the Taipei 101 captured the tallest building honors in 2004, Baumgartner jumped form the 91st floor. If he held the record for jumps from the world’s tallest buildings, he also claimed the honor of having made the lowest BASE jump ever– 28 meters (93 feet) from the hand of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. Having conquered the BASE jumping heights, he also earned high marks for distance, sky-diving across the English Channel on July 20, 2003 equipped with a pair of carbon fiber wings.

Baumgartner’s 2012 Red Bull Stratos jump earned him three more world records: the highest balloon flight, the highest free fall and the fastest speed ever achieved in free fall. While still in the high, thin air near the top of his jump, with the whole world watching on live television, he became the first human being to break the speed of sound in free fall. The success of the project was the result of the efforts of an incredible team. Technical Project Director Art Thompson, founder of Sage Cheshire Aerospace, Inc., designed, built, and tested the high tech capsule, served as flight test director, and selected the other members of the team. A genuine American hero, Joe Kittinger was the previous record holder, having parachuted to Earth form an altitude of 31,333 meters (102,800 feet) while serving as an Air Force Captain in 1960. Following a distinguished military career that included time in the Hanoi Hilton as a Vietnam era POW, he continued flying, logging 16,800 hours in the air, including the first solo balloon crossing of the Atlantic. Kittinger mentored Baumgartner and handled all communications with the capsule. Dr. John Clark, who served as crew surgeon for six Space Shuttle missions, was medical director for the Red Bull Stratos project.

Felix Baumgartner

Pilot Felix Baumgartner of Austria celebrates after successfully completing the final manned flight for Red Bull Stratos in Roswell, New Mexico on October 14, 2012. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Stratos.

The members of the team are quick to point out that the project made important contributions to aerospace safety. The development of a new generation of pressure suits and parachute systems, the establishment of protocols for handling exposure to the extreme conditions of pressure and temperature, and the study of the impact of supersonic acceleration and deceleration on the human body were among the achievements. “We’ll be setting new standards for aviation,” Dr. Clark reported.  “Red Bull Stratos is testing new equipment and developing the procedures for inhabiting such high altitudes as well as enduring such extreme acceleration. The aim is to improve the safety for space professionals as well as potential space tourists.”

Joe Kittinger and Felix Baumgartner

United States Air Force Colonel (Ret.) Joe Kittinger of the United States and Felix Baumgartner of Austria pose for a photograph at the press conference at the Hangar 7 in Salzburg, Austria on October 27, 2012. Photographer: Jörg Mitter. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Stratos.

The National Air and Space Museum will mark the opening of the temporary exhibition and celebrate the arrival of the new artifacts into the collection with a special GE Lecture presentation in the Lockheed Martin Imax Theater at 7 pm on April 2. Felix Baumgartner and the members of his team will be part of a panel discussion exploring the details and results of their record setting project.

Tom Crouch is senior curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.

Remembering William Reid “Bill” Pogue

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Pilot, Astronaut, Author

Bill Pogue

Bill Pogue wearing the mission patch for the third Skylab crew poses with a small model of the Skylab workshop and Apollo Telescope Mount. He was pilot for the Apollo spacecraft that ferried the crew to and from Skylab.

Bill Pogue may be best known as an astronaut who served on America’s Skylab space station and author of the book he titled with the perennial question astronauts are asked to answer, How Do You Go to the Bathroom in Space?

How do you Go to the Bathroom in Space?

Bill Pogue wrote books on this and other curious questions about spaceflight. His memoir, published in 2011, is titled But for the Grace of God: An Autobiography of an Aviator and Astronaut.

Before becoming an astronaut in 1966 at the age of 36, Pogue served in the United States Air Force. After enlisting in 1951, he was assigned to the Fifth Air Force and flew fighter-bombers in the Korean War. He then flew in the USAF Thunderbirds precision flight team, taught mathematics at the Air Force Academy, became a test pilot with the British Royal Air Force, and served as an instructor at the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School. Reaching the rank of Colonel, Pogue became proficient in 50 types of American and British aircraft and logged 7,200 hours in flight (4,200 hours in jets).

Bill Pogue missed the chance to go to the Moon when the last three Apollo missions were cancelled; he had been tapped for the Apollo 19 crew. However, he had key mission support roles for Apollo 7, 11, and 14 and was ready for the next opportunity.

He and two other rookie astronauts were selected as the third Skylab crew and flew the longest-duration mission, an 84-day stay from November 1973 to early February 1974. Command module pilot Bill Pogue logged 13 hours 31 minutes in two spacewalks and, with commander Gerald P. “Jerry” Carr and science pilot Dr. Edward G. “Ed” Gibson, spent a total of 2,017 hours in spaceflight. The three Skylab crews jointly received the Collier Trophy “for proving beyond question the value of man in future explorations of space” and for conducting productive scientific research in space.

Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson, William Pogue

The third Skylab crew (left to right): commander Gerald P. Carr, science pilot Dr. Edward G. Gibson, and command module pilot William R. Pogue.

Bill Pogue and Jerry Carr

Bill Pogue balances on the index finger of Skylab mission commander Jerry Carr in this demonstration of weightlessness. The crew decided not to shave during their almost three months in space.

This last Skylab crew gained notice for rebelling against the non-stop work timeline and taking a day off. After that, Mission Control eased the pressure just enough to give the highly motivated crew some occasional free time. Carr, Pogue, and Gibson carried out solar, celestial, and Earth observation programs and a variety of materials science and life science experiments. The highlights of their mission included observing Comet Kahoutek and doing EVAs on Thanksgiving and Christmas. A replica of their makeshift Christmas tree is visible in the upper deck of the Skylab workshop in Space Hall.

After leaving NASA in 1975, Bill Pogue remained active during the Space Shuttle and Space Station years as an aerospace consultant to NASA, Boeing, and other entities, staying deeply involved in human factors design and engineering analyses. With a college degree in Education, he also was keen to reach young readers and audiences, so he made many public appearances and published four books about his life and spaceflight, plus one novel and several videos.

Bill Pogue had razor-sharp expertise, a genial personality, and a sense of humor that fueled countless entertainingly informative stories. A respected veteran of aviation and spaceflight, he shared his knowledge and experience generously throughout his long career. His death came less than a month after the 40th anniversary of his return to Earth.

Before I came to the Museum, a colleague and I had the pleasure of working with Bill Pogue, Jerry Carr, and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt on three study documents that explored advanced EVA requirements for future NASA missions. Those four had the bright ideas and in-depth knowledge; as their scribe and editor, I learned much of what I know about extravehicular activity techniques and technologies from our lively discussions. As we spent long days and dinners together doing this work, it was an extraordinary opportunity to get to know these astronauts as “real people.” Bill Pogue was real—an expert without pretense, a gentleman, and a friend who always had a ready smile. I hope he is flying high again, somewhere far beyond Earth orbit.

Valerie Neal is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.

The X-15

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During the 20th century, airplane design was driven by the mantra of “flying faster and higher.” Starting with the historic first flight of the Wright Flyer on December 17, 1903, aeronautical engineers focused on the design of new airplanes to achieve ever-increasing speeds and altitudes. Just 44 years later, on October 14, 1947, Capt. Chuck Yeager made aviation history by becoming the first to fly faster than the speed of sound; he piloted the Bell X-1, the first of a series of specially designed experimental airplanes – the X- airplanes. When the sonic boom from this flight reverberated across the desert at Muroc Dry Lake in California, it opened a powerful new chapter in the history of the airplane – the age of supersonic flight. By the early 1950s, supersonic airplanes had become the central focus of airplane design. In just a few years, the first airplane capable of cruising at Mach 2, the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, entered service. Designed by the famous Lockheed Skunk Works under the direction of iconic designer Kelly Johnson, this airplane was a beautiful example of excellent supersonic aerodynamics. It sported a slender and streamlined fuselage with a pointed nose, and a very thin short, stubby wing with a leading edge as sharp as a razor blade – all designed to reduce supersonic wave drag on the airplane.  Then, just 20 years later, William “Pete” Knight flew the X-15 hypersonic airplane to a Mach number of 6.7, the fastest speed attained in the X-15. By virtue of this flight, Knight still holds today the world’s speed record in a winged, powered aircraft. The X-15 opened yet a new chapter in the history of the airplane – the age of hypersonic flight. The X-15, however, did not reflect the supersonic aerodynamics seen in the Bell X-1 and the Lockheed F-104. Instead, the X-15 had a wider fuselage with a blunted nose as well as a thicker wing with blunt leading edges – all designed to reduce aerodynamic heating to the vehicle.  This is a dramatic departure from good supersonic airplane design, and is a good example of the different problems encountered with hypersonic flight.


X-15 hanging in the Milestones of Flight gallery at the National Air and Space Museum.


Rocket powered North American X-15 in flight. U.S. Air Force Photo.

The X-15 was born on October 5, 1954, when the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics decided on the need for a manned hypersonic research airplane. After winning an industry-wide competition, North American Aviation designed and built the X-15. This is the same company that designed the famous P-51 Mustang of World War II, and America’s first swept-wing fighter, the F-86 Sabre of Korean War fame. The first X-15 flight took place on June 8, 1959, when Scott Crossfield, then employed by North American, was strapped into the cockpit.  With a long, flattened fuselage, short stubby wings, wedge-shapes for tail surfaces, and a black surface to help radiate away the high temperature generated by aerodynamic heating, the North American X-15 was poised for its first flight.  Mounted under the wing of a B-52 jet bomber, on that day the X-15 and Crossfield were carried to an altitude of 11,445 meters (37,550 feet), and then released. This first flight was a gliding flight; the rocket powered flights were to come later.  Nevertheless, the X-15 reached a speed of Mach 0.79 on its decent to the desert floor below.

X-15 Book

X-15: The World’s Fastest Rocket Plane and the Pilots who Ushered in the Space Age, by John Anderson and Richard Passman

This first flight was the beginning of one of the most spectacular test programs of one of the most spectacular airplanes in history. When it ended after 199 test flights, piloted by 12 different test pilots, the X-15 had produced test data in the hypersonic flight regime that would be indispensable to the later design of the space shuttle. The last flight took place on October 24, 1968, when test pilot Bill Dana reached a Mach number of 5.38 and an altitude of 77,724 meters (255,000 feet). This last flight was an example of many of the X-15 tests. The rocket engine had been at 100 percent thrust of 57,000 pounds for 84 seconds, and the whole flight from launch to touchdown had taken a mere 11 minutes and 28 seconds. Ultimately, the highest Mach number of 6.7 achieved by pilot Bill Knight and the and highest altitude of 107,960 meters (354,200 feet) achieved by pilot Joseph Walker are speed and altitude records held by a powered, piloted airplane that still stand today. This explains why the X-15 was important enough that one of the original three now hangs with distinction in the Milestone of Flight gallery of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. In this Museum, one can also see the other airplanes mentioned above that represent the path to flying faster and higher – the Wright Flyer, the Bell X-1, and the Lockheed F-104. The X-15 is the natural continuation of the quest for speed and altitude.  After 45 years, no other airplane has flown faster and higher, and it has been a museum piece for four decades. That is food for thought.

John Anderson is curator of aerodynamics in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum and co-author of the new book, X-15: The World’s Fastest Rocket Plane and the Pilots Who Ushered in the Space Age.

For more information on the X-15, check out John Anderson’s new book, X-15: The World’s Fastest Rocket Plane and the Pilots Who Ushered in the Space Age.

Remembering Dale Allan Gardner

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Naval Aviator, Astronaut, Businessman

Dale Allan Gardner

Gardner’s official portrait dates to his entry into the astronaut corps six years before the STS-51A mission. He was one of the “Thirty-Five New Guys” selected in 1978, the first class of astronaut candidates recruited for the Space Shuttle program.

Dale Gardner was one of only six Space Shuttle astronauts to fly the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) propulsion backpack. On Discovery’s STS-51A mission in November 1984, he flew untethered to capture the errant Westar 6 communications satellite and steer it back into the orbiter for return to Earth. His crewmate Joe Allen retrieved another communications satellite, Indonesia’s Palapa B-2, the same way. Allen flew the MMU that is displayed at the Udvar-Hazy Center near Discovery; Gardner flew an identical one that remains at Johnson Space Center.

Both Allen and Gardner captured their assigned satellites using a “stinger” device (a training mockup is in the stored collection), and then used the MMU to stop each satellite’s slow rotation and hand it off to the Remote Manipulator System arm operated by Anna Fisher. That part of the job went as planned, but latching the nine feet long by seven feet wide, 4,400 kg (9,600-pound) cylindrical satellites into the payload bay proved to be much harder than anticipated due to a slight hardware misfit. The crew reverted to “Plan B” and literally manhandled the two satellites into place. Allen credited Gardner with quick thinking and directing Plan B.

Joe Allen and Dale Gardner

Joe Allen on the remote manipulator arm and Dale Gardner opposite in the MMU muscled the massive Westar into its cradle the payload bay. They reversed roles for the Palapa retrieval.

Gardner was the spacewalking astronaut holding a For Sale sign in a humorous photo taken at the end of this salvage task. This mission marked the first retrieval of satellites from space for return to their owners, avoiding a complete loss of insured property. The Westar was refurbished and later re-launched, proving the value of this new ability.


Before coming inside from the Westar EVA, Gardner playfully held up a For Sale sign to signal that the two satellites had been salvaged. Joe Allen is reflected in Gardner’s helmet.

Before the retrieval effort, the STS-51A crew successfully deployed two other communications satellites. This freed room in the payload bay to bring Palapa and Westar home, and also gave the crew bragging rights for the first (and only) “Two Up, Two Down” satellite deployment and retrieval mission.

Gardner entered the astronaut corps as a mission specialist in 1978 after serving in the U.S. Navy as an aviator and project manager assigned to the F-14 Tomcat development. He was a member of the first operational F-14 Tomcat squadron and served two tours on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. He logged over 2,000 hours flying time in more than 20 different aircraft.

Gardner also flew on Challenger (STS-8 in 1983) along with the first African American astronaut on the first shuttle mission to launch and land at night. In both flights, he logged a total of 337 hours (14 days) in space, 12 hours in two spacewalks, and more than an hour in the MMU.

During the almost-three-year pause in shuttle missions after the 1986 Challenger tragedy, his next assigned flight was cancelled. Gardner returned to active duty in the Navy, serving in the U.S. Space Command and holding senior positions in Space Control. In 1990 he moved on to a career in the aerospace industry and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, from which he retired in 2013.

Valerie Neal is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.

Celebrating Jerrie Mock, the First Woman to Fly Around the World

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On April 3, 1964, Jerrie Mock stood next to her Cessna 180 at Dhahran Airport in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The crowd of men before her looked puzzled and then one of them dashed forward to look into the cockpit. In her book Three-Eight Charlie, Mock recalled: “His white-kaffiyeh-covered head nodded vehemently, and he shouted to the throng that there was no man.  This brought a rousing ovation.”

Jerrie Mock

Jerrie Mock’s solo arrival at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia stunned the crowd. Arabian-American Oil Co. (Aramco)

What in the world was an American woman doing flying a plane alone to Saudi Arabia where no woman was allowed to drive a car? Well, actually Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock was flying her Cessna around the world and she was already two weeks into a flight that no woman had yet completed, not even the indomitable Amelia Earhart.  On her round-the-world attempt with her navigator Fred Noonan in 1937, Earhart disappeared without a trace into an afterlife of speculation and theory. Now, 27 years later, here was Jerrie Mock, a mother of three with 750 hours of flight time, a newly-minted instrument rating, and a determination to see the world.  She also had a 1953 Cessna 180, a rugged single-engine four-seat airplane officially named Spirit of Columbus, for her Ohio hometown, but which she affectionately called Three-Eight Charlie, per its registration number N1538C, or simply Charlie, the aviation alphabet code word for “C.” Today, Charlie is suspended at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center where it celebrates Jerrie Mock as the first woman to fly around the world (March 19-April 17, 1964).


Mock’s Cessna 180, which affectionately called “Charlie” is suspended at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Dane Penland

While a far cry from the average pilot of the era, defined as a male weighing 180 pounds, the petite Mock was also not your average suburban wife — to be honest, she was bored, and so she earned her pilot license at age 32.  She and her husband Russell loved to fly around the Midwest and but she longed to visit countries she had always dreamed of as a child. Russ suggested a world flight and Jerrie enthusiastically said why not?  So Russ and co-owner Al Baumeister outfitted the high-wing Cessna with dual directional finders and short-range radios, a long range high-frequency radio with trailing wire, an autopilot and three extra fuel tanks to extend its range to an impressive 3,500 miles. The Columbus Dispatch newspaper signed on as a major benefactor, while Cessna, Javelin Aviation, and others assisted as well.  Mock prepared her routing, with help from an Air Force friend, making sure she would exceed the required official distance for a round-the-world flight of 36,788 kilometers (22,858.8 miles) and she gathered all required paperwork for the flight.  She would even forsake her slacks for a more diplomatic drip-dry skirt and sweater set (taking off her high-heels while flying but looking all the while as a woman off to bridge club instead of flying around the world).

The tone of the flight changed dramatically when the National Aviation Association informed her that another woman, Joan Merriman Smith, was also considering a world flight; Mock quickly submitted her final paperwork as the official pilot seeking the first female round the world record. When Mock learned Smith would depart in her twin-engine Piper Apache in mid-March, to follow Earhart’s equatorial route, she moved up her departure from April 1 to March 19, two days after Smith. With a kiss to her husband and children, the “flying housewife” departed Port Columbus Airport, Ohio, eastbound for Bermuda. After dueling with icing over the Atlantic and sandstorms along the African coast, she inadvertently landed at Inchas Air Force Base in Egypt to be met by armed soldiers.  Perhaps a male pilot would have been detained, but the bewildered soldiers kindly pointed out nearby Cairo International Airport a few miles away and, after dark, cleared her for take-off.  While there she crossed off one of her life goals, visiting the pyramids. Perhaps it was her optimistic, practical nature that carried her through, along with attention to detail (Earhart take note) and a measure of good luck; Smith was not so lucky, beset with mechanical problems.

Diplomatic and military officials and local aero clubs often greeted her but Mock could find her own way around a town too. She relished the dramatic cultural changes in food and dress, as women’s full dark hijabs in the Middle East bloomed into brightly-colored saris or pantaloons of India. She became keenly aware of the dramatic difference in flight rules and the near total absence of the American concept of general aviation; controlled airspace and airports meant red-tape, delays, and outlays of cash. She worried: “Do you think it could ever get like this at home?” As she flew over Vietnam on a 13-hour flight from Bangkok to Manila, she noted: “Somewhere not far away a war was being fought, but from the sky above, all looked peaceful.”

Jerrie Mock

Jerrie Mock poses for a publicity photo before her world flight departure on March 19, 1964. Sheldon Ross, Columbus Dispatch

With her four longest flights over the Pacific still ahead of her, the press only wanted to talk about the unfortunate Earhart. Undaunted because she had the proper equipment and training, Mock flew on without a hitch except for missing a luau in Hawaii — canceled by her overzealous husband who thought  she would need the sleep (shades of Earhart’s husband-manager George Putnam?). On April 14, she flew the final and longest ocean leg of 3877 km (2,409 miles) from Honolulu to Oakland, California, and she arrived home in Columbus on April 17.

President Lyndon Johnson presented her with the Federal Aviation Agency’s Gold Medal for Exceptional Service on May 4, 1964; however she did not win the female Harmon Trophy for that year – it went instead to Joan Merriam Smith who completed her flight 25 days after Mock.  Perhaps Smith’s death in early 1965 had something to do with that. Mock later set several more distance and speed records.

Jerrie Mock and Lyndon Johnson

Geraldine L. “Jerrie” Mock and President Lyndon B. Johnson in the White House Rose Garden on May 4, 1964. Johnson is presenting Jerrie with Federal Aviation Agency’s “Decoration for Exceptional Service” for her solo flight around the world.

Why did it take so long for this world flight to be accomplished? After Earhart’s loss it appears that no woman had even made a serious attempt.  To be sure, World War II banned general aviation but though the annual All-Woman Transcontinental Air Race began in 1948, this great adventure remained.  Potential pilots such as Jerrie Cobb come to mind but the most accomplished female pilot of the day, Jacqueline Cochran, who also had the money, never considered the flight.  Cochran instead set her sights on becoming the first woman to fly the speed of sound and eventually set more records than any man or woman of the era.  Perhaps it was her friendship with Earhart that made Cochran shy away from this one — she had feared for Earhart’s safety and indeed was not surprised when Earhart disappeared.

Whatever the reasons, Jerrie Mock made the flight and earned her place in aviation history.  Today, she is as spunky as ever and she is still awaiting a movie on her record adventure — Hollywood please take note. Seven years ago she joined us for our Become a Pilot Family Day, held each June at the Udvar-Hazy Center. Independent as ever, the octogenarian refused to fly in a commercial airliner, instead making the trip from Florida as a passenger in the familiarity of two small general aviation airplanes.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Mock’s world flight, a display of selected paperwork, photographs, and her sunglasses is in the General Aviation exhibit station case at the Udvar-Hazy Center, not far from her beloved Charlie, both testaments to the character and accomplishments of Jerrie Mock.


One example of Jerrie Mock’s paperwork is a landing permit for Saudi Arabia.

March 15, Women in Aviation and Space Day, Udvar-Hazy Center.
Wendy Hollinger, publisher of a new edition of Jerrie Mock’s Three-Eight Charlie, and Curator Dorothy Cochrane will speak at 12:30 pm.  Hollinger will also be signing books at the Museum shop.

Dorothy Cochrane is a curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.