Our Archives houses the Technical Reference Files, an important collection of aeronautical and astronautical topics comprised of 1,920 cubic feet of documents, photographs, and ephemera. This important resource is housed in vertical files and is an organic, growing collection to which material is added constantly. Recently, we came across a remarkable document in the Tech Files of the long fight against tuberculosis—shared with you today in recognition of World Tuberculosis Day.
The flyer below is an example of propaganda, in this case dropped from a balloon. We are perhaps most familiar with propaganda distributed to influence the opinion and behavior of soldiers and civilians in and near actual armed conflicts. It can provide factual news of war unavailable to civilian populations, convey terms of surrender to soldiers, or seek to affect the morale of citizens and troops. Because penalties could be severe for those found in possession of enemy propaganda during wartime, propaganda is often rapidly destroyed and therefore may not survive to be preserved in the collections of archives.
During the period of the first World War, Colonel A. L. Fuller served as chief of the American Balloon Service. The Army at that time was suffering the loss of personnel, not just to enemy action, but to illness as well. Tuberculosis was widespread and devastating, and no effective treatment had yet been developed. Rates of infection with primary tuberculosis were high in soldiers entering service and military living conditions contributed to a high incidence of secondary tuberculosis. Soldiers who developed debilitating cases of the disease were often sent home, confined in embarkation hospitals until they could be transported overseas in large groups.
To engender awareness on the home front and perhaps contribute to a healthier population of available military personnel, Colonel Fuller employed propaganda flyers, such as this one, dropped from a balloon launched from Akron, Ohio on behalf of the Anti-Tuberculosis Committee of the American Red Cross Society. It advises that, “Tuberculosis may strike you as unexpectedly as this message drops from the balloon in the skies.” It asks the finder to help in the fight against the disease and to provide feedback on the effective distribution of air-dropped propaganda by mailing back information on where it fell.
Propaganda can serve many purposes and in this case, was used in support of a fight against an insidious foe that continues today.
Kate Igoe is an archivist at the National Air and Space Museum
One of the many threads in our Explore the Universe gallery is the changing role of women in astronomy over the past two centuries. In the present gallery, opened in September 2001, we examine how the role of women as astronomers has changed over time from assisting family members to leaders of research teams.
Women first entered the field as assistants to family members—Caroline Herschel systematized her brother William’s observations that would eventually raise the question of whether external galaxies existed. Then women were incorporated as low-paid workers—Henrietta Swan Leavitt created a powerful distance determining method. Next, they were included as professional staff members—Vera Rubin discovered that we live in a universe dominated by dark matter. And now women serve as leaders of research teams and in professional societies—Margaret Geller visualized the large-scale structure of the universe as nested bubbles and voids, and Catherine Pilachowski, a past president of the American Astronomical Society, is a leader in studying the evolution of galaxies and star clusters.
We are now planning to move this exhibition into a larger gallery in the center of the building. This gives us a chance to think of ways to strengthen the messages in the exhibition, especially women’s contributions to astronomy. After several recent evaluations we now realize that we need to make those more explicit. One simple solution is to put a sign at the entrance inviting visitors to look for various trends like the changing roles of women. But how we now present Herschel, Leavitt, Rubin, and the countless others also needs strengthening.
One of the observations of evaluators and educators has been that we need to personalize the instruments, activities, and discoveries we present. Right now, Caroline Herschel sits at a lighted window in their home at Slough calling out to William who is standing at the telescope in their backyard making observations. We include an audio loop where they talk to one another, and if you listen carefully, it seems that Caroline is merely recording what William observes with his eyes, though she certainly has her own opinions. The fact that she helped to design the systematic process of documenting observations is not evident. Nor is the fact that on many occasions she used the telescope herself—“minding the heavens,” as she said—while William was at Court entertaining his royal patron, George III. We will be looking for ways to make these points clearer.
The present exhibition boasts three full-size mannequins, all male: an observer using Tycho’s great equatorial armillary (circa 1577), William Herschel observing with his 6-meter (20-foot) reflector (circa 1790), and Edwin Hubble at the focus of the 254-centimeter (100-inch) Mount Wilson telescope he used to determine that galaxies exist, and then that they are systematically moving away from one another. All three are observing with telescopes. We presently have an image of Vera Rubin with the spectrograph she helped to design and build, using it with a 183-centimeter (72-inch) reflector. Why not bring Vera and her spectrograph to life in an immersive display depicting the base of the telescope with the spectrograph mounted? That’s one possibility.
Another idea: Why not show the Lick Observatory spectrograph being used by an observer? Hundreds of astronomers used this machine from the 1890s through the 1960s, but we have no images of how the instrument was actually used—it was usually very dark in the chamber! I used it at Lick as a student in the 1960s. I can well envisage how we might place an observer so visitors can appreciate the human/machine interface. I’m not volunteering! My choice would be to recreate how Phoebe Waterman used it in 1913 for her PhD thesis that tested the dominant Harvard system of spectral classification. As far as I know she was the first woman to be given primary access to the great 91-centimeter (36-inch) refractor. Another display? Sure, if there’s room.
One woman who surely changed how we think about the universe is missing in the present gallery. Cecilia Payne, a Harvard graduate student from the English Cambridge in the 1920s, used the vast stores of photographs of the spectra of stars created and housed there to test a new theory that explained changes in the spectra of the Sun and stars in response to changes in temperature and pressure. What she found was astounding, not for the range of temperatures that were predicted, but for what spectra revealed about the composition of the Sun and stars. Up to that time, everyone thought that the Sun and stars were made up of the same stuff that the Earth’s crust and meteorites presented: iron, oxygen, silicon, etc. Those elements appeared, of course, but she found that hydrogen and helium by far dominated in the atmospheres of all stars, and presumably in their interiors as well. She well knew that this was an “extraordinary claim” which required “extraordinary evidence” and that her evidence was tantalizing but not confirmative. Such a change in view, truly a revolutionary view, also made problems for other theories, like how stars structure themselves. She published her results in her thesis and in a book, but cautioned that, on the authority some of the most influential astronomers alive, it surely could not be right. Nevertheless, those same astronomers, within five years, confirmed her work and, once again, changed the universe. Wouldn’t a portrait or immersive scene of Payne at work inspecting a star’s spectrum tell the story?
These are just some examples of the many options we are considering as we explore how to make Explore the Universe more appealing, revealing, and relevant to our visitors. No matter what, exploring how women changed the universe will be a part of that process. What do you think of our ideas? Do you have ideas of your own on how we can incorporate more relevant stories into our exhibition? Let us know in the comments.
David DeVorkin is a senior curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum.
In 1962, young Linda Halpern decided to fulfill a school assignment by inquiring about how she could pursue a dream. Required to write a letter for a grade-school class, Ms. Halpern addressed hers to President John F. Kennedy, asking what she would need to do to become an astronaut. The reply that came from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was not terribly encouraging. “We have no present plans to include women on space flights,” it read, “because of the degree of scientific and flight training, and the physical characteristics, which are required.” But Halpern’s letter highlights an historical moment when the early years of the space age overlapped with the beginnings of the second wave of the American women’s movement. The letter has been preserved for decades in the files of Dr. Sally K. Ride, America’s first woman in space, whose personal papers were acquired by the Museum’s Archives in 2015.
Halpern’s decision to ask about a girl becoming an astronaut tapped into the cultural excitement about human space flights in the early 1960s. And her question about whether women would join human space flights had been actively explored in the late 1950s. In fact, before any person had flown in space, some researchers had been exploring whether women might actually be better suited for space flights than men were.
Scientists knew that women, as smaller beings on average, require less food, water, and oxygen, which was an advantage when packing a traveler and supplies into a small spacecraft. Women outperformed men in isolation tests and, on average, had better cardiovascular health. W. Randolph “Randy” Lovelace, the researcher and flight surgeon who performed the medical evaluations on NASA’s first male astronaut candidates, also ran a privately-funded program examining women pilots to see how they would fare under same testing regimen. Lovelace invited 25 female pilots to take the same tests at his Albuquerque, New Mexico facility that had been used to screen male military pilots for NASA’s Project Mercury selection process. Jerrie Cobb and 12 other women pilots passed—and were ready for more advanced testing when Lovelace canceled the program in 1961.
Jerrie Cobb succeeded in having House subcommittee hearings held in the summer of 1962, investigating whether NASA was discriminating on the basis of sex, but the results were not what she hoped. Cobb and Jane Hart testified about the women’s successes. But Jacqueline Cochran, the record-setting aviatrix who had funded the Lovelace tests, testified against continuing the program at that time (hoping that it could be reconstituted later, under her leadership). More important, legal protections for women did not yet exist. Sex discrimination had been identified in 1962 but it would not become illegal until the 1964 Civil Rights Act. At this time, job ads in newspapers ran under separate categories for men and women. Feminist political organizations did not exist yet to support the women. And the Congressional representatives listening to testimony were starstruck to meet NASA’s newest orbital fliers: astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter. NASA’s representatives argued that 1962 was not a time for experimentation, perhaps astronaut qualifications should be even more demanding in the future.
Women could not become astronauts because the early requirements for NASA’s astronaut corps had gender restrictions invisibly embedded in them. Astronaut candidates needed to be graduates of military test piloting schools. But military flying had been closed to women since the disbandment of the Women Airforce Service Pilots in 1944, just before the end of World War II. Indeed, even if NASA’s administration had been willing to think more broadly about astronaut qualifications, once real human space flights had begun, including women had become far less likely.
Within weeks of the first manned space flights (Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s single orbit on April 12, 1961 and American astronaut Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight on May 5, 1961), President Kennedy put the United States on the path to the Moon in a speech to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961. Thus ended any moment of spaceflight experimentation that might have existed in the U.S.; NASA focused on preparing for a lunar landing by the decade’s end. In that context, questions about whether women could be astronauts became perceived as potential distractions. (After Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963, the idea of including American women in space flights was dismissed as a political stunt.)
This was the moment, then, in the spring of 1962, as Cobb was campaigning around D.C., hoping to restart the Lovelace testing and eventually sparking the House subcommittee hearings, when Halpern’s letter to JFK arrived at the White House, asking about how a girl could become an astronaut.
Women would not become a part of the U.S. astronaut corps until 1978, when NASA announced the first class of astronaut candidates that included women, African-American men, and an Asian-American man. One of the six women in that group of space shuttle astronauts was Dr. Sally K. Ride, who became the first American woman in space. Meanwhile, Halpern grew up to have a successful career as an attorney, serving with distinction in the Texas Attorney General’s office. In 1983, when Ride flew into space aboard STS-7, Halpern was working as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC. She sent NASA’s letter to Dr. Ride to let her know that she was fulfilling so many young girls’ long-deferred dreams of spaceflight. Dr. Ride kept it in her files for the rest of her life.
Margaret A. Weitekamp is a curator in the Space History Department.
Ninety years ago today, on March 16, 1926, Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945) launched the world’s first liquid-propellant rocket. His rickety contraption, with its combustion chamber and nozzle on top, burned for 20 seconds before consuming enough liquid oxygen and gasoline to lift itself off the launch rack. The rocket took off from a snowy field outside Worcester, Massachusetts, reaching a height of about 12.5 meters (41 feet) and a distance of 56 meters (184 feet). It was smashed on impact. Goddard, his wife Esther, and a couple of assistants from Clark University, where he was a physics professor, were the only witnesses.
This event did not even make the local newspapers; indeed the reticent professor kept it secret for a decade. He told only a few people and, after a couple of weeks, Charles G. Abbot, the director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (and the institution’s Secretary after 1928). The Smithsonian had funded Goddard since 1917, in the hope that his rocket could lift instruments above the atmosphere—the observatory’s main program was measuring solar variability and output.
In January 1920, the Institution had inadvertently made Goddard world-famous when it published his short, often mathematical treatise, A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. A Smithsonian press release, long lost, noted his proposal to hit the night side of the Moon with a rocket carrying flash powder. The story spread quickly around the world—a scientist had legitimized the idea that Moon travel might even be possible. But the press flap also produced a lot of sensationalism. Volunteers wrote to Goddard asking to join the crew of his imminent lunar voyage. Afterward he was not reluctant thereafter to talk to the press in general terms, but he remained secretive about his technical experiments. He was afraid others might steal his inventions, as he was convinced he was the first person in the world to imagine how to make spaceflight feasible. His paranoia only increased after the German space enthusiasts became active in the 1920s.
In 1930, Goddard received greater funding when famed aviator Charles Lindbergh intervened with the Guggenheim foundation. The Clark University professor spent most of the 1930s in Roswell, New Mexico, building and launching much larger rockets. When the Smithsonian, Lindbergh, and Harry Guggenheim pushed Goddard into publishing another report in 1936, he finally revealed the 1926 launch. Yet, as impressive as some of his work in Roswell was, he continued to resist the entreaties of his funders to seek help when his promises to reach the upper atmosphere never materialized. In fact, Goddard’s liquid-propellant rocket work turned out to be close to a dead-end because he was reluctant to share it with anyone. It was the Germans who made the breakthrough to large-scale rocketry with the V-2. Goddard went to his deathbed convinced that the Nazis had stolen their technology from him.
His real importance did not turn out to be inventing liquid-propellant rocketry, although no one can take his first away. He inspired others, however, to believe that space travel would happen if rocketry was developed. Retired National Air and Space Museum curator Frank Winter has shown the global impact of A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes. Almost immediately, science-fiction, movies, and non-fiction accounts incorporated the rocket as the fundamental technology for spaceflight. Before 1920, it was only one among many ideas and fantasies. The traditional gunpowder rocket was unimpressive and the laws of physics were widely misunderstood. After Goddard’s publication, and that of other pioneers in Soviet Russia and the German-speaking world, opinion began to change. Robert Goddard thus, almost in spite of himself, paved the way for us to escape the Earth, just as he had long dreamed.
Michael J. Neufeld is a senior curator in the Museum’s Space History Department. His collections include Goddard’s rockets and related equipment.
Unless you live in a coastal area, or on one of the nation’s waterways, the U.S. Coast Guard is usually out of sight, out of mind, unless something very wrong happens. Unfortunately, this sometimes means that they are overlooked in their significance to our national welfare and security as well as in terms of their own historical legacy and contributions to aerospace. While the National Air and Space Museum has long recognized the importance of the Coast Guard, the Museum has never before had the opportunity or resources to acquire and display an appropriate Coast Guard aircraft. After an 11-year effort, we are finally able to do that, conveniently in conjunction with the Centennial of Coast Guard aviation – celebrating April 1st, 1916, when the Coast Guard’s first aviator, Elmer Stone, reported for flight training with the Navy in Pensacola, Florida.
Our Museum has been a showcase of many milestones of vertical flight, with America’s first successful rotary wing aircraft, the first helicopter accepted for military service, the first turboshaft driven helicopter, and the first truly successful tilt rotor. We also have outstanding examples of operational rotorcraft like the Sikorsky HO5S-1 that rescued hundreds in the Korean War or a Bell UH-1H with 2,500 combat hours in Vietnam, but the non-combat, life-saving role has not been showcased in the Museum before. Now, we have our first Coast Guard aircraft – the Sikorsky HH-52A Seaguard.
Rescuing people at sea has always been a hazardous undertaking and the idea of being able to pluck someone from a distressed vessel from above goes back to the earliest days of powered flight as this December 1913 Flying editorial about the potential of airplanes to have rescued Titanic survivors illustrates. Between the World Wars, the Coast Guard helped pioneer air-sea rescue with flying boats and amphibian aircraft. However, these airplanes required relatively smooth waters in which to operate and were generally impractical for most open ocean operations, especially when the weather was bad and they were most needed. The advent of the hoist-equipped helicopter during World War allowed this idea to become practical. Unfortunately, through the 1950s, helicopters lacked the range and power to give the Coast Guard the air-sea rescue capability that pioneers like Frank Erickson had sought.
The development of turbine-powered helicopters in the mid-1950s cracked the problems of range and payload for medium-size helicopters. In 1958, Sikorsky Aircraft anticipated the Coast Guard’s long-standing desire for this capability by developing its S-62, an amphibious turbine-powered helicopter that recycled many dynamic components from the S-55, designed in the late 1940s. Ironically, the Coast Guard initially passed in favor of another design, and Sikorsky was forced to market the S-62 for airline service, for which it was not well suited. The Coast Guard eventually came around to the type and ordered 99 of them, which began entering service in 1962 as the HH-52A Seaguard. The Seaguard remained in service until 1989.
While the Coast Guard’s current fleet of MH-60 and MH-65 helicopters has eclipsed the Seaguard’s time in service and its achievement of 15,000 lives saved, the HH-52 is still beloved within Coast Guard aviation as the service’s first helicopter that could meet their mission requirements. The aircraft was small enough to deploy aboard cutters, and its amphibious characteristics gave it a degree of safety in over-water operations that was missing in other helicopters. Natural disasters, the emerging war on drugs, and maritime accidents ensured that HH-52 fleet had ample opportunity to demonstrate remarkable feats of heroism.
Our HH-52A, known by its Coast Guard serial number, 1426, is fully representative of the broad sweep of service provided by the type. It came off the Sikorsky production line in March 1967 and then spent two years in St. Petersburg, Florida, three years in San Juan, Puerto Rico, three years in Detroit, Michigan, three years in North Bend Oregon, and then 10 years in Houston, Texas. In 1989, the helicopter 1426, along with all remaining HH-52s, retired from the Coast Guard. Pilot Stephen Goldhammer ferried the aircraft from Houston to the North Valley Occupation Center. The aircraft remained there until several years ago when the Coast Guard Aviation Association discovered it there while looking for an HH-52 aircraft for restoration that the Coast Guard could then transfer to the National Air and Space Museum. The restoration effort became known as ‘Project Phoenix’ and its installation at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in coming days will be one of the crowning events in the Coast Guard’s celebration of its centennial of aviation.
1426 completed its service with 12,619 flight hours. It made particularly significant rescues in 1969 and 1979. In May 1969, it was involved in the rescue of 104 Mormon schoolchildren from a vessel on fire in the Gulf of Mexico near Tarpon Springs, Florida. Its greatest fame came in 1979 when it was a first responder to one of the worst modern maritime disasters in the Gulf of Mexico when the Liberian-flagged tanker Burmah Agate carrying 300,000 barrels of crude oil collided with the Liberian-flagged freighter Mimosa off Galveston, resulting in a massive fire. In three flights, Pilots J.C. Cobb and Chris Kilgore along with Petty Officer Thomas Wynn rescued 22 survivors (another helicopter then rescued an additional five), including the only two survivors from the inferno of the tanker. On the first flight, they rescued 10 from the Mimosa, in addition to the pair from the Burmah Agate. This load of 12 put the helicopter in a dangerous overload from which it barely recovered. More details of this episode may be seen in this Washington Post article.
In addition to saving lives, in 1977 while at North Bend, Oregon, 1426 participated in one of the larger narcotics busts up to that time with the seizure of six tons of marijuana on the Panamanian-flagged Cigale off the Oregon coast. The restoration of 1426 was undertaken in Elizabeth City, North Carolina and took about 18 months. It may currently be seen in the Udvar-Hazy Center restoration shop and will soon be suspended in the Boeing Aviation Hangar.
Roger Connor is a curator in the Aeronautics Department.