AidSpace Blog

And Then the Curator Asks, “What’s a Tumblr?”

Posted on

One subtheme of the Outside the Spacecraft: 50 Years of Extravehicular Activity exhibition is the connection between the photography of spacewalking and art. We even hosted a special event in February featuring the photographer Michael Soluri and spacewalker John Grunsfeld to talk about how those two expressive visual methods came together during the STS-125 servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. One other way our exhibition team suggested we bring photography and art together was through crowdsourcing using a new social media venue for the Museum, one I as the curator had never even touched despite being fairly active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And here we have the moment this curator met Tumblr.

Our goal was to provide a platform for people to share their own creative expressions inspired by spacewalking. Whether you love or hate social media, Tumblr satisfies the allure of sharing previously private artistic musings in a very visual, blog format. We began our Tumblr project, Imagining Spacewalks, by compiling the photographs featured in the exhibition and are slowly offering them up as inspiration for anyone’s creations. Almost two months into the process, we have some fantastic work featured already, but we certainly want to take it further by introducing more quotes, artifacts, and moments from the history of extra-vehicular activity that might just get more left-brained folks out there to participate. Let’s take a look at where we started and where we’re heading.


The three images above show what we hoped would come from this project, expressed in pairings in the exhibition of photographs and artwork from our collection inspired by images of life outside a spacecraft. For example, the famous Moonman photograph of Buzz Aldrin on the Apollo 11 mission quite clearly inspired Robert Shore’s imaginative and very colorful take on it (Lunar Confrontation, Oil on Masonite, 1970) with Jules Verne reflected in the astronaut’s visor. Recently contributed by artist Michael Kagen is Contact Light (Oil on Linen, 2014), a very modern but complementary addition. The first two are side by side in the exhibition, and the third is part of our Tumblr project.


Similarly, we have the first two of this set in the gallery near each other, showing the reality of Edward White’s first American spacewalk in June 1965 and Clayton Pond’s reimagining of that in Delineating the Constellations to Simplify Astronomy for the Average Man (Serigraph on Paper, 1980-81), complete with a pop-art space shuttle and an umbilical line connecting stars. Christine Reuter’s mixed media version of White’s spacewalk came to us on the Tumblr (titled Umbilical), and elegantly illuminates that gold umbilical line as it stretches out to the astronaut.

Kagan and Reuter’s two contributions to the Imagining Spacewalks Tumblr project are just two examples of some fine and valuable pieces shared with the Museum so far that celebrate the deeply visual nature of spacewalking, and illustrate how seeing people in space connects us so intimately with that world just over 200 humans have ever experienced. We hope that by adding more thoughts, artifacts, and artwork to this rather new experiment for the Museum, many of you might take to Tumblr and share your own artistic ponderings with us as we honor 50 years of going outside the spacecraft.

Jennifer Levasseur is a museum specialist in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum, and is responsible for the Museum’s collection of space cameras and early human spaceflight astronaut equipment. 

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon

Coming Soon: Discovery 3D!

Posted on

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.

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon

Snapshots of Women, and Men, in the Aerospace Industry

Posted on

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. 

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon

How Two Cold War Spacewalks Came to a Common Technological Solution

Posted on

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.

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon

Reflections on Pi Day, March 14

Posted on

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.

Share:Share on FacebookShare on Google+Email this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on RedditShare on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon