AidSpace Blog

Coming Soon: Discovery 3D!

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Every week or two we see news of another museum digitizing its collection and making it accessible online. The Smithsonian is no exception, and efforts are under way across our campus to scan artifacts, works of art, documents, and films and put them on our websites. These projects take months if not years to complete, but it is our high priority to open the museums to visitors beyond our walls, and digitization is a key part of our strategy.

The National Air and Space Museum, working closely with the Smithsonian’s central Digitization Program Office, already has made a pioneering step in this direction by scanning the iconic 1903 Wright Flyer in 3D and creating a number of “tours” that enable online visitors to examine the aircraft as a whole and take detailed looks at many of its features. We have just scanned Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and are preparing the auxiliary content for online access.


Adam Metallo (left) and Vincent Rossi of the Smithsonian X 3D scan the Spirit of St. Louis.

Our ambition is to work our way methodically through the Museum’s amazing collection and create high resolution 3D digital models of as many objects as possible, and then make them readily viewable online.

This week we are taking an even bigger step—attempting to scan one of the largest objects on display in the Smithsonian, the Space Shuttle orbiter Discovery, in very high-resolution 3D digitization. At 37 meters (122 feet) long with a 24-meter (78-foot) wingspan and a vertical stabilizer rising almost 18 meters (60 feet) high, this is by far the largest artifact the Smithsonian has yet attempted to scan, and it is our first spacecraft to be scanned.

Discovery in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.

With its complex geometry and varied surface materials, Discovery may pose certain challenges to achieve the desired fidelity in both the laser scan of its “architecture” and the exactly matching photo documentation of its “skin.” We aim to blend both structural and surface accuracy for life-like realism. If all results as we envision, viewing Discovery online—or maybe 3D-printing it?—will yield an orbiter that exactly duplicates what you see in the Museum, although at smaller scale.

Our first step is to conduct a test by scanning a variety of typical and atypical areas of the spacecraft to learn what physical issues they may present for accurate scanning and data processing. We will spend a day or two sampling the exterior and interior, then evaluating the results and refining the techniques, before embarking on the full scan in a few months. Until we do the trial this week, we will not have a good sense of how long the actual scanning will take, probably at least a full week, maybe two. Nor will we know whether we can achieve the desired resolution to show such details as the serial numbers on the tiles and all the fascinating evidence of spaceflight on the tiles and thermal blankets.

We are excited to launch this Discovery 3D project with the generous support of one of the Museum’s Board members, Meredith Siegfried Madden, and her husband Peter Madden. In the meantime, we are posting this preview announcement, and we will post news and images as the project progresses. We believe there are many visitors eager to see a 3D Discovery, coming soon to the Smithsonian X 3D.

Dr. Valerie Neal is space shuttle curator and chair of the Space History Department.

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Snapshots of Women, and Men, in the Aerospace Industry

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March is Women’s History month and I recently attended several events that offer snapshots of women, and men, in the aerospace industry. In Dallas, Women In Aviation International (WAI) held its 26th annual conference, in Tucson, Arizona, the Pima Air and Space Museum opened a new exhibit entitled Women In Flight, and Southwest Airlines graduated its 307th class of flight attendants. And there were more moments.

WAI held its first conference in 1990 and incorporated in 1995 as a networking association for women wishing to enter the field of aerospace. By then, women were finally legally allowed to become commercial pilots for the airlines or military pilots. Emily Howell became the first permanent female pilot for a U.S. airline in 1973 and the military began training non-combatant female pilots in the mid-1970s, but women were still barred from combat flying until 1993 when women won the right to enter fighter pilot training. By the time of the Iraq War, women were flying in combat roles and WAI conferences became a celebration of the arrival of women in all cockpits. With all options now open, the conference offers an educational and job fair atmosphere to women at all stages of their careers, but especially to those just starting out.

The 2015 WAI conference boasted an attendance of 4,572 including 183 international attendees. One of the most successful aspects of the organization is the strong scholarship program: this year WAI, its sponsors and members, awarded over $600,000 in scholarships ranging from private pilot training, to type ratings in airliners, to maintenance courses to aviation universities. The exhibit hall is a hotbed of enthusiasm for both vendors and attendees. For example, once the bastion of airlines finally recruiting women to join their ranks, it is now a prime recruitment center for both female and male commercial pilots. So, just when women finally get a foot in the door, the men see a good thing too, and WAI accommodates all of its members. Speakers at the conference included Colleen Barrett, President Emeritus of Southwest Airlines, Heather Penney, retired U.S. Air Force (USAF) and racing pilot now with Lockheed Martin, and Pat Blum, co-founder of Corporate Angel, a humanitarian organization that provides transportation for cancer patients on corporate aircraft.

The Dare to Dream Scholarship offers advanced training for instrument, multi-engine or commercial pilot ratings. Image: Courtesy WAI

The Dare to Dream Scholarship offers advanced training for instrument, multi-engine or commercial pilot ratings. Photo Credit: WAI

The lucky winner, right, of a Boeing 737-700/-800 type rating certificate scholarship, donated by the Boeing Company. The scholarship pays for an intense training course to qualify to pilot this short to medium range airliner, the best-selling commercial airliner in history. Image: Courtesy WAI

The lucky winner, right, of a Boeing 737-700/-800 type rating certificate scholarship, donated by the Boeing Company. The scholarship pays for an intense training course to qualify to pilot this short to medium range airliner, the best-selling commercial airliner in history. Photo Credit: WAI

The lucky winner, right, of a Boeing 737-700/-800 type rating certificate scholarship, donated by the Boeing Company. The scholarship pays for an intense training course to qualify to pilot this short to medium range airliner, the best-selling commercial airliner in history.

At the same time military women walked the aisles of the WAI exhibit hall; some took the Marine Corps chin-up challenge, while others visited the Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard booths. Major manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers were there too, recruiting for their workforce and selling their products. Colleges and universities, museums, authors, aerospace organizations, and private and government employers round out the hall.


I was fortunate to join these up and coming women of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) at lunch–fully vested search and rescue (SAR) and combat search and rescue (CSAR) pilots who fly patrol and transport aircraft and helicopters. Someday you may be stranded on a roof in a hurricane or capsized in the water and one of these USCG crewmembers will come to your aid. The impressive group from left to right:
-LT Julie Padgett, HC-144, Corpus Christie TX
-AET2 Kim Dechmerowski, MH-65D Dolphin, San Francisco – She is the first and only counter drug precision marksman (aviation) and second and only active female Ports Waterways Coastal Security (PWCS) marksman (aviation).
-Kim Dechmerowski’s mother
-LTJG Staci Kronberg, HC-130H, Barbers Point, HI
-LT Sarah Bradley, MH-65D, Barbers Point, HI
-LTJG Allison Majcher, HC-130H, Sacramento, CA
-LTJG Renaqua Russell, HC-144, Corpus Christi, TX
-LT Caitlin Mitchell Wurster, MH-65D, Atlantic City, NJPhoto Credit: Courtesy Staci Kronberg

The next day I participated in the opening of the Women In Flight exhibit at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. I was pleased to contribute a short history for the exhibit and join those who donated artifacts, photographs, or their own stories. I listened to U.S. Congresswoman Martha McSally of Arizona’s second district and a 26-year USAF veteran with 2,600 flight hours who was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat and first to command a fighter squadron in combat. Sharon O’Neal recalled persevering to be an engineer, even when she was the only woman in her class, and becoming the first female engineering deputy at Raytheon Missile Systems. Major Christy Brannon shrugs her shoulder when traveling with a male crewmember who is often assumed to be the captain of their C-130J cargo aircraft– no, she is. She knows she earned her job and has the USAF’s full confidence in her skills and leadership so she isn’t bothered by those who don’t understand.

Pima military donors

Military veterans and Pima Air and Space Museum speakers and donors, including Rep. Martha McSally, second from left. Photo Credit: Pima Air and Space Museum


Maj. Christy Brannon, USAF, C-130J instructor pilot for the 79th Rescue Squadron at DMAFB. Image: Courtesy Pima Air and Space Museum

Maj. Christy Brannon, USAF, C-130J instructor pilot for the 79th Rescue Squadron at DMAFB. Photo Credit: Pima Air and Space Museum

Pictured below are two friends of mine who are private pilots and former National Air and Space Museum volunteers (they worked on the Pitts S-1C Little Stinker and Curtiss CW-1 Junior). Eight years ago Cindy Rousseau made a mid-life career change to Southwest Airlines flight attendant. Last week she pinned the wings on a new Southwest flight attendant – her husband George. This 307th class is composed of 83 women and men of all ages and ethnic or religious backgrounds and that afternoon in Dallas, you couldn’t have found a more enthusiastic and joyous group of new employees.

SW Cindy and Geo

Cindy and George on his first flight as a Southwest Flight attendant. Photo Credit: Cindy and George Rousseau

Southwest Heart One

This is a 737-700 Next Generation series airplane, shown in Southwest Airlines livery, the likely “workplace” for the Rousseaus and hopefully the Boeing scholarship winner. Photo Credit: Stephen M. Keller


As my flight climbed out of Phoenix, Arizona for Washington, DC, a female voice announced, “This is Captain Cochran (what a coincidence but no relation to me) from the flight deck and we welcome you aboard…” I caught a glimpse of her when deplaning and wished I could have caught her eye but she was deep in paperwork and probably thinking about her next flight.

Finally, last weekend, the National Air and Space Museum hosted its annual Women in Aviation and Space Day at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, and among the many successful women mentoring young women and girls were two particularly accomplished military women: Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski, F-15E and F-16 pilot and the first female pilot for the USAF Thunderbirds, and Captain Monica Marusceac, AV-8 Harrier pilot and second USMC female combat pilot. All of these snapshots surely prove to me that barriers have been broken and though some doubts may still linger, they won’t last for long. Aerospace has room for all.

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

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How Two Cold War Spacewalks Came to a Common Technological Solution

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Wednesday, March 18 marks the 50th anniversary of the first extravehicular activity (EVA), or spacewalk, of cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov. Now is a good time to look closely at the choices the USSR and the U.S. made in sending a man outside of the spacecraft. Even though the two countries were locked in competition to gain primacy in space, by 1965, the choices that they had made in technical approaches to flying a spacecraft had diverged significantly from a common origin using the German V-2 rocket. But the result of the early spacewalks of Alexsei Leonov and Edward White sent both the Soviets and Americans to a British technology that neither side would have consider before 1965.

Aleksei Leonov’s training suit and airlock are displayed at the Museum in Washington, DC.

On March 18, 1965, Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov ventured outside his spacecraft and floated in space for about 10 minutes. He became the first human to float in open space. Because the Voskhod spacecraft in which Leonov was traveling with his commander Pavel Belayev operated with a full air environment, Soviet engineers faced the challenge of designing a spacewalk that would not require cycles of depressurizing and repressurizing the Voskhod 2. To this end, they opted for an external, inflatable airlock that would keep the Voskhod 2 pressurized for the duration of the spacewalk and minimize the extra air required for an emergency. This engineering solution complicated Leonov’s path to a spacewalk.

The cosmonaut had to make his way from and to the spacecraft through the 2.5-meter (8.2 foot) airlock. The protocol that Leonov and Belayev followed was detailed and well-rehearsed. But there were limits to what could be rehearsed on the ground. Leonov’s heart raced during his spacewalk and while the doublepressure layer of his suit retained his oxygen supply, it also retained every kilocalorie of energy that his body generated. His spacesuit contained physical restraints to prevent it from expanding which made it stiff and unyielding. In order to regain flexibility in his suit, Leonov had to vent the air in his suit to lower the pressure. The fact that Leonov’s spacesuit had an air pressure gauge and air release valve indicates that Soviet spacesuit designers had an idea that Leonov might have trouble during his spacewalk. Leonov got even further excited as he reentered the airlock the wrong way after he finished his spacewalk. Instead of entering the long tube feet first, Leonov entered in the more instinctual manner of headfirst, forcing him to flip around inside the airlock and increasing his workload even further. In the end, Aleksei Leonov spent 12 minutes outside of the airlock, and an additional eight climbing through it. He returned to the Voskhod just as his ground link with the Kamchatka station (the Soviet’s farthest east station) began to fade.

Ed White performing the first EVA by an American during Gemini 4 in 1965. Jim McDivitt took this photograph.

In contrast to Leonov’s experience, Ed White had a pretty uneventful spacewalk almost three months later. The Gemini 4 mission was originally intended to be a test and maneuverability of the new Gemini spacecraft. In fact, the spacewalk was a late add-on for the flight. As late as 11 days before the flight, NASA had refused to commit to matching Leonov’s feat. While on the mission and after James McDivitt and White found they could not execute the rendezvous that they had planned after the initial orbit, they moved onto to the spacewalk. For them, the process was simple once they had contended with problems with the hatch and troubles with the voice communication system. Ed White was out in open space for 20 minutes. He used a handheld manned maneuvering unit to do maneuvers that Leonov had to self-propel through, and White also had the peace of mind of having McDivitt closely observing and photographing him during the outing.

Although the differences between the two experiences are often linked to Leonov’s difficulty in returning to the spacecraft and ascribed to a shortcoming in the spacesuit, that is not the case. In all likelihood, Ed White experienced a similar amount of increased stiffness of his spacesuit. He just had a larger opening and a clearer view to climb back into the spacecraft and had a less contorted path to return to his seat. In order to understand how both sides were facing the same technological issue, it is best to understand the physics of the two spacesuits. Leonov’s suit started with an initial operating pressure of 5.8 pounds per square inch (psi) and when he released pressure in the suit to reenter the airlock the suit reverted to a pre-set pressure of 3.9 psi. This had been the same operating pressure of the SK-1 Vostok suits that cosmonauts Gagarin through Tereshkova had worn. Although this depressurization produced a dramatic change in the rigidity of his spacesuit, Leonov remained well within the limits of oxygen pressure for human lungs to function properly. Leonov’s suit was designed by engineers who knew that the minimum safe limit for the pressure of oxygen is 3.0 psi. Aleksei Leonov’s life was not at risk from venting pressure from his suit to allow his to return to the Voskhod spacecraft. His risk from the bends had already been averted by the fact that he and his commander Pavel Belayev had pre-breathed oxygen prior to the spacewalk.  Ed White’s David Clark G4-C suit remained at a constant pressure of 3.7 psi of a pure oxygen environment.

The real technical flaw that these first spacewalks brought to light was the fact that neither side had an adequate cooling system for a spacesuit. By definition, spacesuits are airtight bags that hold air or oxygen. They do not conduct heat very well here on Earth. The cooling mechanisms of both the Soviet Berkut spacesuit and the American David Clark G4-C were even less adequate in the near vacuum of space. The Soviets had used a “heat sink” technology that channeled heat away from the body using an undergarment that was lined with small rubber cones that acted as radiators, moving heat from the skin’s surface to the inner layers of the spacesuit. The American astronauts relied on air-cooling for their spacesuits during Project Gemini. Both systems worked well enough for flights in the atmosphere or as long as the cosmonaut or astronaut remained inside a pressurized spacecraft. In a pressured capsule, those suits functioned well when exterior molecules could continue the cooling process by removing heat from the exterior layers of the suit through heat radiation. In the near vacuum of space, however, there are no molecules to do this, thus heat remained inside the suits and the humans inside overheated, the suits became rigid and simple tasks became exhausting and heroic feats.


Apollo Astronaut Liquid Cooling Garment, Mid-1960s

As a result of the experiences of these first walks, both sides turned their attention to contemporary research at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. The year before the first spacewalks, British engineers D. R. Burton and L. Collier published the results of their research on developing “water conditioning suits” that promised to maintain a comfortable body temperature for aircraft pilots. The early suits were long underwear with flexible tubing running throughout the lengths through which cool water would circulate, thus removing heat energy from airtight suits. Within five years, all spacewalkers would wear some variation of this water conditioning suit now known as a Liquid Cooling and Ventilation Garment (LSVG). Today, that is nearly the first thing that spacewalkers put on when preparing for a work outside of a spacecraft if they are wearing Russian, American, or even Chinese spacesuits.

Cathleen Lewis is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.

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Reflections on Pi Day, March 14

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Professor Clarence A. Waldo, from the 1899 Purdue yearbook.

Purdue University, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, has a special place in the annals of space exploration, having among its graduates 23 (and counting) astronauts, including Gus Grissom, Neil Armstrong, and a host of shuttle crew members, who have flown on more than 40 shuttle missions. Today, March 14, on which we celebrate the number π, whose decimal expansion begins 3.14159…, it is fitting to recognize a less well-known “boilermaker,” Clarence A. Waldo, professor of mathematics. In February, 1897, Professor Waldo was visiting the Indiana State Capitol, to look into the issue of appropriations for the school, when he learned to his astonishment that the Indiana House had passed, unanimously, “a bill introducing a new mathematical truth,” that claimed to have solved the age-old problem of “squaring the circle”—the problem of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle by using only a finite number of steps with a compass and straightedge. The bill had been introduced by Dr. Edwin J. Goodwin, M.D., who also implied in the bill four finite and conflicting values of π including 9.24, 3.236, 3.232 , and 3.2—values of π that were not an endless, non-repeating set of digits. Dr. Goodwin was offering his discovery free of charge to Indiana, while asserting that other states would have to pay royalties for its use. The bill was about to be passed by the Indiana Senate, when Professor Waldo intervened and persuaded the Senate to table it; the bill was apparently never again brought up for consideration.

One can only speculate what might have happened had the bill been passed into law. Would Neil Armstrong have stepped on the surface of the Moon 72 years later? Perhaps. The desire to “square the circle” goes on. To date no one has succeeded. Happy π day!

Paul Ceruzzi is chair of the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum.

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Obscure Objects: Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick’s Parachute

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In 1964, a woman named Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick donated this parachute, which was handmade by Charles Broadwick and consists of 110 yards of silk, to the Smithsonian’s National Air Museum, precursor to the National Air and Space Museum. Just who was Tiny Broadwick and what is her connection to parachuting?

Tiny Broadwick said that unlike modern parachutes, which are shaped from bias strips to give them the strength to withstand jumps from speeding aircraft without tearing, this parachute is shaped from straight pieces of material. This back-pack parachute was used for exhibition jumps in the early-1900s. Photo by Carolyn Russo, National Air and Space Museum

Tiny got her nickname when she was born Georgia Ann Thompson in North Carolina on April 8, 1893 weighing just 1.4 kilos (3 lbs.). Even when fully grown, she was just over 1.2 meters tall (4 feet) and weighed about 36 kilos (80 lbs.), so the nickname stuck.

Tiny was just 15 years old when she jumped from a hot-air balloon at the 1908 North Carolina State Fair. Describing her feelings later, she said, “I tell you, honey, it was the most wonderful sensation in the world!” It was a thrill she would come to experience some 1,000 times in her life.

Tiny first became interested in jumping in 1907 when she saw an act called, “The Broadwicks and their Famous French Aeronauts,” in which performers would ascend in a balloon and then parachute out. “I knew that’s all I ever wanted to do!” she commented after seeing the show. She approached the owner of the troupe, Charles Broadwick, and convinced him to hire her. Her diminutive size worked to her advantage, since Broadwick saw the potential in billing her as the “Doll Girl,” dressing her in ruffled bloomers, a silk dress, ribbons in her ringlets, and a bonnet. Although she hated the name and the costume, she soon became the star of the show.

Formal, posed, full-length studio portrait of Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick, “Youngest Girl Aeronaut,” 1911. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 98-16301)

Charles Broadwick legally adopted Tiny and her name became Tiny Broadwick. They traveled all over the United States with the popular balloon act, during which the dauntless Tiny performed daring jumps, sometimes with flares or torches. She had several harrowing mishaps during her career. She once landed on top of the caboose of a train, and got tangled in a windmill and high tension wires. She also had many rough landings in which she broke bones and dislocated her shoulder on several occasions, but she never lost her enthusiasm for jumping.

One day at a Los Angeles air meet she and Charles Broadwick met famed stunt flyer and airplane manufacturer Glenn L. Martin, who had seen her jump. He proposed that she jump from one of his airplanes, a chance she seized without hesitation, making her the first woman to parachute from an airplane on June 21, 1913.

To perform this feat, Tiny hung from a trapeze-like swing suspended beneath Martin’s airplane just behind the wing. Her parachute, which was developed by Charles Broadwick, was on a shelf above her, and when the plane was at 2,000 feet over Los Angeles, Tiny released a lever that made the seat drop out from under her. The parachute, which was attached to the airplane by a string, opened automatically, and she floated safely to earth, landing in Griffith Park.

Tiny Broadwick shown seated in a sling which is hanging from the side of Glenn Martin’s plane, probably over Chicago, 1913. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 77-716)

Later that year, Tiny became the first woman to parachute into a body of water, namely, Lake Michigan.

In 1914, her reputation as a parachutist led to the U.S. Army contacting her. World War I was raging in Europe, and many pilots were lost because they had no way to escape from a falling airplane. Tiny was asked to demonstrate jumping from a military airplane, and she made four jumps at San Diego’s North Island. After three successful jumps, her fourth didn’t go so well. Her parachute’s line became tangled in the airplane’s tail assembly and the strong winds prevented her from getting back in the airplane. But Tiny did not panic; instead she had the idea to cut the line to a short length and free fall toward the ground, then pulling the line by hand to open the parachute. This was, in essence, the first planned free-fall descent, and the first demonstration of what would later be called the “rip cord.” She had proven that a pilot could return to the ground safely by bailing out of an airplane.

Tiny Broadwick posing beside an airplane in flying gear, with parachute. Charles Broadwick invented the back-pack parachute she is wearing. When the wearer jumped, the chute was automatically pulled from the pack by a line attached to the balloon or airplane. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (NASM 87-13559).

Tiny’s last jump was in 1922, when she was just 29 years old. Sadly for her, problems with her ankles prevented her from continuing as a parachutist. She stated at the time, “I breathe so much better up there, and it’s so peaceful being that near to God.”

Tiny received many honors and awards in her lifetime. Among them are the U.S. Government Pioneer Aviation award and the John Glenn Medal. She is one of the few women in the Early Birds of Aviation. She also received the Gold Wings of the Adventurer’s Club in Los Angeles, and was made an honorary member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg. With that honor, she was told she could jump any time she chose.

At the May 5, 1964 Tiny Broadwick Night dinner during which Tiny donated her parachute, National Air Museum Director Philip S. Hopkins said, “Measured in feet and inches, her nickname ‘Tiny’ is obviously appropriate. Measured by her courage and by her accomplishments, she stands tall among her many colleagues — the pioneers of flight. And her contributions to flight history have helped to make America stand tall as the nation which gave wings to the world.”

Tiny Broadwick died in 1978 at age 85 and was buried in her home state of North Carolina.

Watch a 1963 interview with Tiny Broadwick from the state archives of North Carolina, conducted by news reporter Ben Runkle of WRAL.

For more information on Tiny, read Tiny Broadwick: First Lady of Parachuting by Elizabeth Whitley Roberson.

Kathleen Hanser is a writer-editor in the Office of Communications at the National Air and Space Museum.

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