AidSpace Blog

From the Archives: Window Shopping

Posted on

Did you know October is Archives Month? In honor of the event our own archivist, Elizabeth Borja, shares a recent discovery in the collection:

Growing up in the Maryland suburbs outside of Washington, DC, one of the greatest weekend activities for me (aside from visiting Smithsonian museums or the Zoo) was to window shop at the big downtown department stores Woodward and Lothrop, the Hecht Company (affectionately known as Woodies and Hecht’s), and Garfinckel’s.  My mother had a Washington Shopping Plate—a credit card that could be used at local stores—and I loved watching the clerks use the imprinter to copy her card using carbon slips.

Hecht Co.

The Hecht Co. Building at 7th and F Streets NW.  Image by Alice Hochlander, collected by the Historic American Buildings Survey after 1933. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS DC,WASH,681–2

As I was flipping through a set of historical National Air and Space Museum photographs in the Archives a few months ago, one caught my eye—was that a Hecht’s window display?  Upon closer examination, it was!  But the display from the 1950s wasn’t highlighting the usual dresses, jackets, or shoes.  Instead, it featured models from the National Air Museum in celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Anacostia Naval Air Station (NAS) in Washington, DC.

Hecht Co.

A window of the Hecht Company, Washington, DC, features National Air Museum models for a special exhibit in honor of the 30th Anniversary of the Anacostia Naval Air Station; March 14-17, 1950. NASM 00194682

The Anacostia Naval Air Station was commissioned on January 1, 1919.  Its  location on the river made it a good site to test seaplanes.  The Pigeon School, which trained 19 specialists who handled and cared for more than 500 birds, also moved into the Station.  Over the next 30 years, flight testing continued as well as radio and electronics testing.  The Spirit of St. Louis returned from its triumph in Paris on the USS Memphis and docked at Anacostia.  The first glider released from a dirigible landed at Anacostia.  Eleanor Roosevelt christened the first Pan Am American Clippers at Anacostia.  In 1961, the air station closed, its functions moved to Andrews Air Force Base.


U.S. Navy Pitcairn XOP-1 Autogiro preparing to land on wet pavement, NAS Anacostia, June 1, 1931.  NASM 2003-4962

At the time of the NAS Anacostia 30th Anniversary in 1950, the National Air Museum had only been legislatively created four years before.  But there was no authorization for the construction of a building.  According to the NASM autobiography, any aircraft that had been stored at a Douglas plant in Park Ridge, Illinois (now the site of O’Hare Airport), were going to be evicted with the onset of conflict in Korea.  Head curator of the museum at the time, Paul Garber, found land in Suitland, Maryland, for collections storage which later was named the Paul E. Garber Facility.  Collection artifacts were also displayed in the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building and, apparently, the Hecht Company as well.

Hecht Co.

View of the Smithsonian Institution Aircraft Building in the South Yard, as seen from the second floor of the Arts & Industries Building; circa 1940s. NASM 00194651

Now Hecht’s, Woodies, and Garfinckel’s are gone.  Every now and then, you’ll find a remnant of the old DC department stores still around.   Just last year, I bought a Garfinckel’s brand dress from a vintage stand with the original tags still on it!  The buildings themselves remain landmarks in downtown DC, reminders of its history.

Check out what other Smithsonian Archives are up to!

Elizabeth C. Borja is an archivist in the National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Department.

New Satellite Image of Out of Many, One

Posted on


This satellite image was captured by DigitalGlobe’s GeoEye-1 satellite on October 6, 2014. Credit: Portrait by artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada, commissioned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery; Satellite image collected by DigitalGlobe.

Out Of Many, One by Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada is a large-scale portrait, made of sand and soil, temporarily displayed on the National Mall for the month of October. The GeoEye-1 satellite, operated by DigitalGlobe, acquired a great image of Out Of Many, One on October 6, the same day the artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada spoke at the National Air and Space Museum. GeoEye-1 is able to return color images showing details as small as a few meters across. This image is an interesting example of the connections between aerospace technology and the visual arts.

Although many people have seen Out Of Many, One from the ground and the top of the Washington Monument, the satellite provides the only way to view the portrait as intended: directly above.

Andrew Johnston is a geographer in the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum. See more from Andrew here

Learn more about the portrait at the National Portrait Gallery  in Washington, DC.

Rummaging in the Archives Tech Files

Posted on

I suspect that most households have what my parents used to call our “junk drawer,” a place for storing miscellaneous small stuff. Ours was in a handy location, the kitchen. It held scissors, rubber bands, toothpicks, matches, various keys, pins and pens, and spare parts for this and that. Some of the things we used often; most were just there in case a need ever arose.

The National Air and Space Museum Archives has such a “drawer”—a whole lot of them, actually—but I wouldn’t consider their contents junk. Officially called the Technical Files, they are located next to the Library and Archives Reading Room on the third floor of the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. A treasure trove of materials that don’t belong to specific collections, they serve as a general reference resource for researchers and staff.

Hawaii by Air is currently on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Photograph from Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution.

When I began researching Hawaii by Air, the temporary exhibition now on view at the Museum, I spent many days rummaging through the Tech Files looking for anything relating to air travel to Hawaii. I wanted to create an exhibition based as much as possible on the Museum’s own collections, and those files seemed like a good place to start. What I found amazed me and helped shape Hawaii by Air.

The Tech Files consist of several moveable banks of locked file cabinets painted a lively shade of late-1970s orange. Each row contains 50 file drawers, and there 14 rows plus oversize storage. You need assistance from someone at the reference desk to access the files.

As a novice researcher, I had to learn some basic rules and procedures: no food or drink allowed in the Reading Room, use pencils only to take notes (erasable if you accidentally leave a mark on archival material), wear cotton gloves when handling photographs. To prevent misfiling, remove only one folder at a time for examination in the Reading Room, mark its location with a large cardboard placeholder, and note on the placeholder your name, the date, and the folder ID number. A misfiled folder is a lost and useless folder.

The files are organized by subject. A large section is devoted to aircraft and is arranged by manufacturer and then by aircraft type. The aircraft files contain a mind-boggling assortment of company documents, ephemera, and photos relating to thousands of aircraft. When I needed an interior view of a Sikorsky S-38 flying boat from the 1920s, I found it here in a technical booklet on the aircraft published by Sikorsky. As a bonus, it included seating diagrams that designer Jennifer Carlton used as a background graphic. In a folder on the Martin M-130 Clipper, I found a copy of The Bride on the Philippine Clipper, a personal account by Helen Hagerman about her transpacific flight in 1937, which Jennifer and I ended up highlighting in Hawaii by Air.

The extensive biographies files contain materials relating to thousands of people, both the famous and the obscure. In a folder on Cmdr. John Rodgers, I found newspaper clippings from 1925 on the first attempt to fly to Hawaii. These helped us tell the story of the Navy’s search for Rodgers’ missing seaplane and his ordeal’s happy ending in Hawaii. I also found a collection of newspaper articles on Clarence Walker, a lesser known early aviator who earned the dubious distinction of being the first to crash a plane in Hawaii. We included his story as well.

The Tech Files also contain drawers on myriad other subjects: propulsion; equipment; organizations; space history; arts, literature and entertainment; events, air expositions, meets, races, and shows . . . the list goes on. Serendipity rewarded me in an events file where I discovered a copy of the official program for the “Dole Trans-Pacific Flight”—the infamous Dole Derby of 1927, which cost a dozen flyers their lives. We reproduced the program’s front and back covers in the exhibition.

But the drawers I spent the most time poring through were the airlines files, part of the vast air transport section. Organized by airline, these files hold a wondrous assortment of stuff: route maps and timetables, advertisements and press releases, news articles and airline magazines, prints and photographs, postcards and other memorabilia, and more. I looked through files for U.S. airlines from Aloha to United that had flown to or among the Hawaiian Islands. From them I obtained many of the images that appear in the post–World War II sections of Hawaii by Air.

I found far more materials than I could include in the exhibition. Many provided quotations that appear on the graphic panels or information that made its way into the exhibition text. I scanned or photographed countless items for future reference and carefully documented where I found them. Later, we ordered from the Archives high-resolution scans of the few select items we chose to reproduce on the exhibition’s graphic panels. Because of the light levels in the exhibit gallery and other factors, we could not display the originals. I’ve included here a few things that didn’t make it into the exhibition (and that I can share beyond the Archives Reading Room).

This is the cover illustration from a copy of a lecture delivered by Pan Am founder Juan Trippe to the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1941. Sadly, we didn’t have room for this beautiful route map. Found in the Airline Technical Files, Pan American Airways

This small Pan Am “time selector” helped you figure out how to reset your watch when crossing multiple time zones. An image of the flip side—a currency converter—appears in the Museum’s America by Air gallery. Found in the Airline Technical Files, Pan American Airways

This circa 1955 photo shows the two Hawaiian Air Tour Service (HATS) Cessna T-50 “Bamboo Bombers” over the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach. We used a more colorful Tiki-style brochure to represent HATS. Found in the Biographies Technical Files, Hans Mueller

I drew from many other Archives resources as well—its vast digital image collections searchable in the Reading Room, and its photo, memorabilia, ephemera, and film collections at the Archives’ main facility located at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Over two-thirds of the images in Hawaii by Air were drawn from the Museum’s Archives.

So anyhow, thanks for reading; I have to go. I’m looking for a new project that will send me on another exploratory adventure in the National Air and Space Museum Archives.

David Romanowski is an exhibits writer-editor at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. See more from David here

America’s First Spacewalking Woman: Kathryn D. Sullivan

Posted on

Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan’s official astronaut portrait. (NASA)

Thirty years ago, on October 11, 1984, a female American astronaut stepped outside her spacecraft for the first time. Kathryn D. “Kathy” Sullivan had work to do in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle Challenger, a mobile workplace travelling 17,500 miles per hour about 140 miles above the Earth.

Sullivan was one of the six women (in a class of 35) selected in 1978 to be Space Shuttle astronauts, and she was the third woman tapped to fly.  An Earth scientist and PhD. geologist/oceanographer, mission specialist Sullivan was a good match for the STS-41G mission, which carried an Earth-observation payload and deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite. She was co-investigator for the Shuttle Imaging Radar (SIR-B) remote sensing experiment and actively involved in research use of the Large Format Camera and other instruments mounted in the payload bay.

However, it was not these experiments that drew her outside for 3 ½ hours. She and crewmate David Leestma did a trial fluid transfer to demonstrate that it was feasible to refuel satellites in orbit, a key task for satellite servicing. They had trained for this task in the underwater neutral buoyancy simulators at NASA’s Marshall and Johnson Centers and also in engineering labs. In orbit, they used a mockup of the Landsat’s cluster of fuel valves and some custom-built tools to modify them for a refueling operation in space. The chosen fluid—hydrazine—is toxic, so it was essential to make proper refueling valve connections without leaks or spills. Although the two astronauts were protected by their pressurized extravehicular activity (EVA) spacesuits, no one wanted stray hydrazine in the vicinity to contaminate scientific instruments or to migrate back into the cabin with the EVA crews. The two also positioned a communication antenna for proper stowage and verified that the large SIR-B antenna was properly stowed for return.

Kathy Sullivan, the first U.S. woman to do an EVA, and Dave Leestma work on the orbital refueling experiment at the far end of the payload bay. (NASA)

Sally Ride made her second flight on Sullivan’s first; the STS 41G crew was the first with two women. (NASA)

Sullivan was the first woman to wear the Shuttle-era spacesuit, the 225-pound Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), to work in space. It was a ready-to-wear suit, not custom-made, with interchangeable arms, legs, and torso units in different sizes. These parts could be combined to fit anybody in the range from the 5th percentile female to 95th percentile male.  She said she found it pretty comfortable to wear and work in while in zero gravity, although the fit did not quite match where her knees and elbows actually were, making it somewhat harder to move her limbs.

The EVA gloves worn by Sullivan are in the Museum’s collection and soon will be displayed in a new exhibition, Outside the Spacecraft, to mark the 50th anniversary of the first spacewalks in 1965. It opens in January 2015. Also in the collection is the Society of Women Geographers pennant that Sullivan took on this mission to honor her profession, as well as one of her flight suit name tags.

Sullivan’s right-hand EVA glove from the STS-41G mission.

Sullivan’s Society of Women Geographers pennant from the STS-41G mission.


Sullivan flew twice more on the shuttle but did not go on other spacewalks. She was prepared for one on STS-31 in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope deployment mission flown on Discovery, in case anything went  amiss with the release of the telescope. When one of the solar arrays jammed, she and Bruce McCandless suited up and prepared the airlock to go outside and deploy the array manually. However, Mission Control resolved the problem via software, a good but probably disappointing solution for the two would-be rescuers who had trained for every foreseeable contingency. In 1992 on Atlantis, Sullivan was payload commander on STS-45, a nine-day “Mission to Planet Earth” called ATLAS-1 that focused on measuring atmospheric chemistry and dynamics.

After spending a total of 532 hours in space, Dr. Sullivan left NASA in 1993 to take a series of distinguished positions, first as chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and now as administrator of NOAA since early 2013. In between NOAA stints, she spent ten years as president and CEO of the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Columbus, Ohio, and five years as the first director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy at Ohio State University. She is prominently involved in all aspects of environmental sciences research with a focus on global environmental intelligence and climate change.

Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan today, Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (NOAA)


Valerie Neal is a Space History curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. See more from Valerie here

Remembering Jerrie Mock (1925-2014)

Posted on

Jerrie Mock

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

Shortly before the red and white Cessna 180 was to be suspended at the Udvar-Hazy Center for public display, I called its pilot to give her the news. Geraldine ‘Jerrie’ Mock was delighted that Charlie, as she affectionately called her plane, would be displayed again. Jerrie flew Charlie in 1964 to become the first woman to fly solo around the world (learn more about her flight). When the National Air and Space Museum opened on the Mall in Washington, DC, Charlie was displayed in the General Aviation gallery. However, exhibits changed and Charlie went to storage for many years. With the building of the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, the Museum was now able to place stored or borrowed aircrafts back on display.

Jerrie with her ferry pilot, Vince Massimini , and curator, Dorothy Cochrane, upon arrival at Kentmorr Airpark, June 15, 2007. Photo courtesy of Dorothy Cochrane.

Once the Cessna was installed, I called Jerrie with the news and encouraged her to visit us. She really wanted to, but the idea of making a trip from her home in Florida was daunting for a woman in her 80s. And here was the kicker, she wouldn’t fly a commercial airliner because her little town was hours from a major airport. When I explained this to some museum folks, one of our docents, Vince Massimini, volunteered to go and get her. He was big fan of Jerrie’s and he was flying his five-seat Maule M-7-235C to our 2007 Be A Pilot Day event anyway, so he might as well make a “side” trip and bring her with him. Every June, the Museum hosts about 50 aircraft on the tarmac outside the north end of the Udvar-Hazy Center and invites the public for an open house. Owners stand by their planes and talk up aviation. Not surprisingly, Jerrie agreed knowing it was the only way she would see Charlie again. Vince flew to Quincy Municipal Airport in Quincy, Florida, situated Jerrie into her seat and headset, and they headed to Maryland’s eastern shore. Delayed by thunderstorms in North Carolina, it was dark when they landed on Kentmorr’s grass strip by the Chesapeake Bay. We worried that Jerrie would be too tired and sore for dinner, but after “hello” the next thing she said was, “I’m ready for my crab cake!”

Jerrie speaking with a Northwest airline pilot at Be A Pilot Day, June 16, 2007. Photo by Dane Penland.

The next morning Vince and Jerrie arrived at Dulles Airport in time to taxi to Udvar-Hazy with the other aircraft. After breakfast, I took her to the upper walkway for a straight-on view of Charlie. She was so pleased to see her plane “airborne” again. For the rest of the day, she sat in the shade of the building and chatted with visitors. Most could not believe this diminutive woman had actually flown a light plane around the world nearly 50 years ago. They loved hearing of her adventures and she loved reminiscing about the flying, the sights, and the people. “I just wanted to see the world,” she said. One Northwest Airlines captain was so intrigued with her that we had to ask him to pace himself and give others a chance to visit with her! At the end of the day we stopped to say goodbye to Charlie. Once again we thought she would be exhausted when she arrived at Margy Natalie’s home for the night (Margy is the ground boss for Be A Pilot Day), but Jerrie happily talked for a few hours more. The next day, Dave Taisch who was heading for Florida in his Mooney M20R graciously flew her home. I always admired her sheer determination to make that flight around the world, and in 2007, I saw it again when she made sure she saw Charlie one more time. Jerrie Mock embodied Nike’s slogan “Just do it!” The same might be said for those two ferry pilots who helped her make her trip for Pilot Day. Jerrie passed away this week on Tuesday, September 30, 2014. She was a feisty lady with a wry sense of humor to the end.

Dorothy Cochrane, curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum. You can see more posts from Dorothy here.