The second Apollo mission to carry astronauts into space provided NASA and the world with an unprecedented view of life on Earth. From the start, with its planned mission to fly three astronauts around the Moon and back, Apollo 8 became a touchstone for how people understood the process of spaceflight. The mission profile included a variety of firsts, including the first Saturn V launch with people inside the command module atop the massive rocket (Apollo 7, the first mission, was launched on a Saturn IB), views of Earth set against the blackness of space, and Earth as a backdrop to the cratered landscape of the Moon as seen with the human eye (Figure 1). Like other first time experiences in the history of exploration, Apollo 8 set a number of benchmarks with information collected for scientists, engineers, and the public. The mission left behind a legacy as the cultural highlight of an otherwise tragic year in American history, one marked by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, clashes in Vietnam, and rioting around the nation.
For the National Air and Space Museum, there are a number of representations of this unique flight in our collections, research, and exhibit work. As the recipient of most Apollo-era NASA equipment, the Museum’s collection contains only a few remnants of the Apollo 8 mission. Where appropriate inside our own exhibits or at borrowing museums, these items are often used in exhibits to represent the mission. The command module, designated CSM-103, resides on loan at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago (see it being moved in photo, figure 2). Artifacts from the collection representing each of the astronauts, Frank Borman (Omega Speedmaster, figure 3), Jim Lovell (pressure bubble helmet, figure 4), and Bill Anders (checklist, figure 5), are currently part of the traveling exhibit 1968, organized by the Minnesota History Center. We display the rescue net used to recover the Apollo 8 astronauts from their floating command module as part of the Apollo to the Moon exhibit at the Museum in Washington, DC. A telescope and eyepiece like that used by the Apollo 8 crewmembers to navigate by the stars appears in the Time and Navigation exhibition (figure 6). As part of a plan to revise that exhibit leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo program, representing the mission falls to exhibit curators and the way in which they decide to include the mission in their script. Lacking many signature mission artifacts may mean representation of Apollo via a mural of the iconic Earthrise photograph – perhaps the mission’s most memorable contribution to NASA’s cultural legacy.
As a part of our research as historians, Apollo 8 provides a point of comparison with other space flight experiences, but also as a connection point with other “first” journeys throughout history. One might relate Apollo 8 to the travels of the Vikings or other Europeans to the New World, expansion of Americans and Europeans across the African and North American continents, and exploration of the Polar Regions in the last century. While most comparisons thus far have an intellectual basis, practical issues of technology, science, funding, and public perception cut across these exploration projects as well. My own current project, a doctoral dissertation at George Mason University, highlights the connections between visual documentation of exploration through still photography. The goal of my research is to show how Apollo astronaut photography fits easily into the visual traditions established throughout previous expeditions that used cameras. Resources such as the Apollo Image Atlas and Apollo Flight Journal pull together visual and other documentation critical to seeing how NASA and the public viewed this historic flight.
As we enter the holiday season, so memorable 45 years ago for the Christmas Eve broadcast by Borman, Lovell, and Anders from 240,000 miles away as they circled the Moon, let us remember that mission as a first step of its own, but also a new step in a long history of human exploration.
Jennifer Levasseur is a museum specialist in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum.
This is a story about light and time and distance, about years and light years and how they intersect. It is partly a personal story, so I beg your indulgence. I hope it will inspire you to find your own star.
I moved from Boston to Northern Virginia in November 1983 to work as an editor for a national association. In my free time, I began exploring the museums on the National Mall. I visited the National Air and Space Museum for the first time, and there I encountered an exhibit I’ve remembered ever since.
I found it in an exhibition called Stars, which had recently opened in Gallery 111. Perhaps because I had worked at Boston’s Charles Hayden Planetarium and knew the sky pretty well, I was drawn to an interactive exhibit called “Find Your Birthday Star.” The way it worked, as I recall, was you provided your age or birth year, pressed a button, and then on a large map of the heavens a star lit up—a star whose light shining in the current sky began traveling across the universe in the year you were born.
I knew that light travels through space at about 300,000 kilometers (186,000 miles) per second and covers almost 9.6 trillion kilometers (6 trillion miles) in a year, and that because the stars in the sky are different distances from us, they represent different “ages” of light. Still, I was enchanted by the discovery that I could now look up at the sky and locate a star whose light was about as old as me. I was just days away from turning 30, so my “birthday star,” 30 light-years away, turned out to be the sixth brightest star in the constellation Hercules—Zeta Herculis.
I was so enchanted by this discovery that I went home and dashed off a poem about Zeta Herculis. It wasn’t a great poem—I’m not a great poet. But it captured for me that moment of wonder and delight.
Thirty years is a long time in the life of a museum. In 1983, in addition to Stars, you could visit galleries at the National Air and Space Museum named Balloons and Airships, World War I Aviation, Flight Technology, Flight Testing, Vertical Flight, Satellites and Sounding Rockets, and Rocketry and Space Flight—all long gone now. General Aviation had recently closed, soon to be replaced by The Golden Age of Flight.
Stars had replaced Social Impact of Flight, which had been called Benefits from Flight until someone decided that not everyone considered the atomic bomb on display a benefit. A bitter debate over the use of atomic bombs would arise in 1995, when the Museum became embroiled in controversy over plans for an exhibition called The Last Act: The Atomic Bomb and the End of World War II. The Smithsonian’s secretary canceled The Last Act a few months before its scheduled opening. The Enola Gay exhibition took its place but didn’t end the controversy.
Even the galleries that haven’t been completely replaced have changed in many ways. A good example is Milestones of Flight, the Museum’s soaring entrance gallery. New skylights filter the sunlight, and an added vestibule helps keep out dirt and dust. While visitors in 1983 swarmed through revolving doors, they now file through magnetometers and have their bags scanned, a sobering reminder of other ways the world has changed.
Standing here in Milestones, I see many things I wouldn’t have in 1983: the XP-59A Airacomet, the Breitling Orbiter 3, two decommissioned U.S. and Soviet ballistic missiles, and SpaceShipOne. Even more noticeable is what’s no longer here—the iconic 1903 Wright Flyer, which moved to its own gallery upstairs in 2003, replacing Where Next, Columbus? The other of the Museum’s three biggest galleries, Space Hall and the Hall of Air Transportation, have seen many changes as well. The exhibits in Space Hall were revised, enhanced, and unified in 1997 to create Space Race. A similar upgrade of Air Transportation in 2007 created America by Air.
Wandering through America by Air reminds me of how the Museum’s approaches to creating exhibits have changed. When the Museum first opened, each gallery was devoted to a particular era or aspect of aviation or space flight and displayed an assemblage of artifacts and exhibits relating to that topic. Technology was the main emphasis. Beginning in 1991, with Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air, exhibit teams began creating exhibitions that used the artifacts and exhibits to tell more complete and coherent stories.
You can see the result when you compare World War II Aviation, an original gallery that hasn’t changed all that much, to the Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery, completely redone in 2010 but featuring many of the same artifacts as the original gallery. The exhibits here are designed to engage a broad range of visitors, from children to adults, from those who like their exhibits “hands-on,” to those more information-oriented, to those who simply want to explore the gallery and enjoy discovering things. Like Pioneers of Flight and America by Air, new exhibitions try to satisfy a range of learning styles and use diverse approaches to excite and inspire visitors and hook their interest.
Not that an old-style exhibition doesn’t have its own appeal. A study some years ago revealed that Sea-Air Operations, an original gallery just upstairs from America by Air, remains a favorite among visitors. The main part of the gallery immerses you in the bay of an aircraft carrier hangar deck. It may lack the bells and whistles of newer galleries (although the whistle of a bosun’s call does welcome you aboard), but no other gallery in the Museum so completely transports you to a different place.
Another change has been an increasing emphasis on interactivity. In 1996 the Museum opened How Things Fly, its first and only gallery featuring mostly hands-on exhibits. Most new exhibitions now provide for interactivity of some sort, although hands-on exhibits here are challenging to maintain, given the phenomenal wear and tear they receive.
Like a constellation of stars, the Museum’s galleries represent a range of times—some exhibitions having just been born, others aging and changing, some ready to expire, and many existing now only in memory.
Thirty years is also a long time in the life of a person. When I first entered these halls in 1983, I had no idea that the National Air and Space Museum would become such an important part of my life. That a year and half later, I would meet the love of my life here on a museum tour and speak my first words to her beside the Apollo 11 capsule in Milestones of Flight. That 18 months after that, I would call to tell her I’d been offered the writer-editor job in the Museum’s Publications Office. That two years later, I’d move over to the Exhibits Department, where I’ve remained as its writer-editor ever since. That I would play at least a small role in shaping every exhibition created here since 1990. And that among those countless projects, I would work with the curator and a designer who created Stars to write its replacement, Explore the Universe.
Which leads me back to that poem I mentioned, the one I wrote after my first visit to the Museum. For what it’s worth, here it is:
Birthday for Zeta Herculis
I learned today the light
from Zeta Herculis we see
left that star
about the time I was born.
Were Hercules not shining
in someone else’s sky,
I would rush outside
to greet the light
as it passes by,
toast that slender ray
from that sixth-brightest star
of that modest constellation,
wish it happy birthday,
bon voyage, eternal youth.
Think of it:
a ripple of light
so fresh and unruffled
after trillions of miles
on the road,
the same radiant energy
that burst from that hearth,
diffused through the starry sea,
and breaks now over this reef
of planets and moons
like the wake of a passing ship,
or this poem in your hands
thirty years from now.
Light, time, distance. I am standing once again in Gallery 111, where Stars used to be, wandering through Explore the Universe, where you can still find an exhibit that will help you locate your birthday star. I hold in my hands those words I wrote about a minor star in a modest constellation—a message I tossed into the universe almost exactly 30 years ago and that has now floated back to me.
As I reflect on the seasons of my Smithsonian past, I wonder about the life I will have lived and where I will be, on a starlit night 30 years from now, when the light born tonight on Zeta Herculis washes over me.
What’s your birthday star?
Thanks for reading; I have to go. I have a birthday to celebrate, and heavens to behold.
David Romanowski is the writer-editor in the Exhibits Department at the National Air and Space Museum.
Ten Years of the Udvar-Hazy Center
The tenth anniversary of the opening of the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is December 15, 2013. In celebration, I’ve provided a short list of ten things about the Center that, from my perspective, are cool and may be relatively unknown to many visitors.
Seriously Original and Preserved Aircraft
When you walk through the Udvar-Hazy Center, you’ll see some aircraft that do not look shiny and new. That is because they are original with the surfaces and finishes they had when when in use, reflecting the fascinating stories that go with them. Next time you are out at the Center, take a closer look at the Caudron G-4, Curtiss Jenny, Bowlus Baby Albatross glider, Grumman Gulfhawk G-22, Lockheed P-38 Lightning, Messerschmitt Me-163, Bell UH-1H “Huey,” and Space Shuttle Discovery and see what original air and spacecraft have to offer, blemishes and all.
The American Civil War at Air and Space
The Smithsonian has been celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War with various programs and publications. At Hazy, you can see a barometer used by America’s pioneer aeronaut Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, who operated a balloon for the Union Army and a photograph of the remnants of the multi-colored Confederate “silk dress balloon” the Gazelle.
The flying car has been a persistent, yet so far unrealized, dream in the history of flight. The Udvar-Hazy Center displays three manifestations of the desire for freedom on both the road and the air, the Autogiro Company of America AC-35, the Waterman Aerobile, and the Fulton Airphibian.
Power for Flight
Speaking of flying cars, a consistent theme through the history of the aircraft piston engine is the strong connection to automotive companies. While many of us know about the road going origins of Hispano-Suiza, Packard, and Rolls-Royce among others, here are two rare examples you can see at Udvar-Hazy. Designed by Ettore Bugatti and manufactured by Duesenberg, the King-Bugatti U-16 engine never took to the air, but connects two of history’s most famous automakers to the American World War I aviation production program. For individuals who wanted to build their own airplane like the Heath Parasol in the late 1920s, they could purchase a converted Henderson motorcycle engine for power.
A Really Cool Space Ship Model
In the model maker’s world, builders take pre-made parts from different kits and incorporate them into their work. This “kit-bashing” saves a lot of time and results in something new. A closer look at the Mother Ship from the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind shows that its makers used quite a few railroad models, especially a lot of cylindrical tank cars. You can also see their humor when you discover a character from another movie universe, R2D2 from Star Wars, and two Grumman TBF Avengers of infamous Bermuda Triangle-Flight 19 fame among other inside jokes.
Restoration on Display
For decades, the first-class restoration and preservation work performed by Museum specialists was done at the Paul E. Garber Facility near Suitland, Maryland, which had limited public access. With the expansion of the Udvar-Hazy Center and the opening of the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, visitors now have the opportunity to watch restoration work from the vantage point of the second-floor mezzanine. The first project to be completed, a Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver dive bomber from World War II, will be going on display March 14, 2014.
Fun for the Whole Family
Besides the air and space artifacts, the Udvar-Hazy Center serves as an active place for families to come together with special programming. There is Become a Pilot Day Family Day and Aviation Display, Super Science Saturdays, and various daily activities like “Flights of Fancy” Story Times. My wife, Cheryl, and I brought our daughter, Piper, to her first Air and Scare, the Museum’s Halloween event, last October. Can you guess her costume?
Catch a Movie!
During the day, you can catch pilots and astronauts in Air Racers 3D, Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag, and The Dream is Alive and see aerospace history at its finest in the Airbus IMAX Theater. In the evenings, moviegoers have seen Katniss Everdeen, James Bond, Batman, and Harry Potter just to name a few in the latest Hollywood blockbusters featured on the really, really big screen. Be sure to get there early if you want a good seat.
The Donald D. Engen Observation Tower
Sixteen stories above the Center you can get your plane watching in viewing takeoffs and landings of everything ranging from turboprop puddle-jumpers to the largest jumbo jets from the north-south runways of the Washington Dulles International Airport. In between flights, you can take in a 360 degree view of the Virginia countryside that goes as far as 20 miles on a clear day, which includes the edges of the Blue Ridge Mountains off to the west.
That is one seriously big building.
Designed by architectural and engineering design firm Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, the Udvar-Hazy Center consists of two large display hangars. The Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar boast 293,707 and 53,067 square feet respectively with air and space craft installed at three levels. Compared to the 235,985 square feet of exhibition floor space in the Museum in Washington, DC, the Udvar-Hazy Center has given the National Air and Space Museum an unprecedented opportunity to bring to the public its stellar collection of aerospace artifacts. As of December 2013, there are approximately 240 air- and spacecraft on display with room for more in the coming years. We’ll just have to wait and see what the collection will look like in December 2023.
Jeremy Kinney is a curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.
The newest addition to the Time and Navigation gallery is a life-size bronze statue of a dog named Sydney. Sydney now reclines amiably on the deck of the exhibition’s ship, and our youngest visitors are finding him appealing. On a recent morning, one toddler was observed patting the statue’s head and squealing, “Puppy!” Another clambered onto Sydney’s back and went for an imaginary ride.
But our bronze dog isn’t just for fun for the under-five set. He has four paws firmly rooted in history.
The original Sydney was the pet on the USS Vincennes, flagship of the U.S. Exploring Expedition. Funded by the U.S. Congress, the expedition traveled the world between 1838 and 1842. Its six-vessel Navy squadron mapped uncharted waters and expanded American commerce, industry, and scientific knowledge. The expedition returned with an estimated 40 tons of animals, plants, and ethnographic artifacts that would become the foundation collections for the U.S. Botanical Garden and the Smithsonian Institution.
The governor of Australia reportedly gave Sydney (the dog) to the expedition’s commanding officer Charles Wilkes when the squadron called into Sydney for provisions in 1839. Beginning in late December that year, Sydney set sail across the Pacific with the squadron. His first major stop was Antarctica, where he had a chance to stretch his legs on an iceberg, as shown here in a sketch by Wilkes.
Later in the expedition, Sydney would experience the opposite to this frigid surface. While accompanying his shipmates on an exploration of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, he scorched his paws on hot lava.
Although references to Sydney are meager, we’ve learned some basics, especially about the way he looked. Wilkes noted his dog’s extraordinary size and strength and sketched him as a big dog. Charles Erskine, one of the expedition’s 200 seamen, described Sydney as “a beautiful, large Newfoundland.” Newfoundlands are commonly all black, but we can see in the Wilkes sketch that the dog is predominantly white with dark markings. Sydney likely had a variation of the breed’s coloring, today called “Landseer” after the 19th-century painter who frequently depicted mostly-white Newfoundlands in his works. From Erskine’s description of a practical joke, we also know Sydney was so big that three men could simultaneously rest their heads on him:
One very warm and pleasant night, in the mid-watch, seeing three of our quarter growlers (old sailors) taking a siesta on deck, and enjoying our big dog, Sydney, as a pillow, I hunted up a bone and place it about a foot from the dog’s nose. As soon as Sydney got a smell of the bone he suddenly sprang up, and the sleepers’ heads came down on deck with a thump. Such a growling! Why, they were like three old bears with sore heads.
We also learned Sydney played an important role on the expedition–to protect the leader, Charles Wilkes. “My dog Sydney was of especial service in watching over me,” Wilkes wrote. He firmly believed that in repeated encounters with unfriendly Pacific islanders, he owed Sydney his life. For landing parties, Wilkes described how Sydney was always in the bow of his boat, first on shore, and first to sound the alarm for hidden dangers with “a peculiar angry growl.” Sydney continued to keep watch as Wilkes did his observations for the island surveys, never leaving his side for hours at a time. “He was,” Wilkes concluded, “the most intelligent and faithful dog I ever knew.”
From Charles Erskine we know too that Sydney was still with the expedition in 1841, when the squadron celebrated the 4th of July with an all-hands parade at Fort Nisqually (near today’s Tacoma, Washington). Wilkes was at the head of the parade, and Sydney trooped happily along farther back with Vendovi, a member of Fiji Island royalty held captive by the expedition. But after that, we lose the big dog’s trail.
It’s a treat to see him reappear in Time and Navigation.
See details on how our colleagues at the Smithsonian’s Office of Exhibits Central made the bronze statue of Sydney.
For further reading on Sydney, see
Charles Erskine, Twenty Years Before the Mast: With the More Thrilling Scenes and Incidents While Circumnavigating the Globe Under the Command of the Late Admiral Charles Wilkes, 1838-1842 (Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1896).
Autobiography of Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes, U.S. Navy, 1798-1877 (Washington, DC: Naval History Division, Department of the Navy, 1978).
Carlene Stephens is a curator at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.
Led by object conservator and project leader Lauren Horelick, the National Air and Space Museum staff continues preparing the Horten IX V3 center section to move early in January (weather and roads permitting) to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center where it will eventually be joined to the outer wing panels that are already displayed in the hangar. Conservation Fellows Anna Weiss and Peter McElhinnery recently joined Lauren and retired Museum treatment specialist Karl Heinzel, and the two fellows are already making significant contributions to the project. Here is a selection of photos taken in Building 10 at the Paul Garber Facility showing progress thus far.
Once Lauren’s team finishes their assessment, artisans will build a sturdy fixture to support the center section during the 40-mile trip from the Garber Facility to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
After the center section arrives at the hangar, work will continue to stabilize the artifact, treat any problem areas, and prepare to attach the outer wing panels to the center section and again make the aircraft whole, something like this:
Deciding just how much of the jet wing to treat or restore will be a group effort involving treatment specialists, conservators, and curators, but this critical step must wait until we can gather in one place the center section, outer wing panels, wheels and tires, control surfaces, and other components, and study them carefully to determine how the whole artifact should be finished. We expect to make progress on this phase of the project next year.
Russ Lee is a curator in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum.