AidSpace Blog

Smithsonian TechQuest: Eye in the Sky

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The year is 1967. The government has requested your skills to help locate a downed plane somewhere near hostile territory. After getting the mission details in the briefing room, you embark on a journey through the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Virginia, looking carefully at various artifacts and discovering clues that will lead you to the downed plane. Test your powers of observation, your problem-solving skills, and your decision-making abilities as you take on the role of intelligence analyst. The game will engage you through hands-on activities and secret codes that lead to an ultimate conclusion. The fate of top-secret technology and missing pilots is in your hands.

The National Air and Space Museum’s new alternate reality game, Smithsonian TechQuest: Eye in the Sky, focuses on four Cold War-era artifacts, two of which were top secret . The game is a new effort to engage younger visitors and direct them to interact with key artifacts. While it targets upper elementary and middle school visitors, Smithsonian TechQuest has proven popular with older visitors as well. Alternate reality gaming is gaining in popularity and other museums and historical venues, such as Colonial Williamsburg and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, have had success with this type of programming.

While Smithsonian TechQuest is a self-guided game, meaning players set their own pace, a short introductory briefing is required and is offered at various times throughout the day. Play length is about 60-90 minutes and includes three hands-on activities. At various points in the game, players interact with the Museum’s Explainers, high school and college-aged students who engage visitors and add a personal touch to the game. A debriefing at the end allows players to test their map skills and recommend a recovery plan. And they might receive the ultimate award, a medal for service to their country.

Staff from the Museum’s Education department developed Smithsonian TechQuest: Eye in the Sky over many months. The hardest challenge was deciding on a storyline. Should it focus on aviation? Space? What time period? Staff settled on the topic of aerial reconnaissance, which allowed them to combine aviation and space artifacts. They consulted museum experts and docents who had personal experience with the featured artifacts. Smithsonian TechQuest promotes active learning and encourages a closer look at the museum’s amazing collection of artifacts. Ultimately it is an adventure that will help players learn about observation and practice critical thinking and have fun in the process.

Eye in the Sky is the first in a planned series of games that will explore National Air and Space Museum artifacts through an engaging storyline and creative use of technology and gaming techniques.

Smithsonian TechQuest: Eye in the Sky – a new way to experience the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Tim Grove is Chief of Museum Learning at the National Air and Space Museum. He was assisted by intern Madison Carper.


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Advising on the Star Trek Starship Enterprise

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Who do you call when you need to know everything there is to know about the Star Trek starship Enterprise? As the curator for that artifact—the original 11-foot model used in filming the Star Trek television program that aired from 1966 until 1969—I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and learning about Star Trek. The Museum has a lot of source material to rely upon: the acquisition, restoration, and exhibit record for this artifact stands at more than 1000 pages (and growing). In fact, I hired an intern two summers ago just to create a comprehensive index for that record so that I could know, for certain, whether I had checked every relevant document in it when searching for an answer. That review of the Museum’s records was a part of the move of the model that I have been planning for several years.

The Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model being removed from the lower level of the National Air and Space Museum Shop.

The Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model being moved through the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.

This fall, in September 2014, the Museum moved the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model to the Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Virginia, in preparation for its new display location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall in 2016. Before it goes back on display in July 2016, the model needs some care and treatment.

Malcolm Collum, National Air and Space supervisory conservator, took ultraviolet photography of the external surface of the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model in the Museum’s Conservation Lab. The original paint on the ship’s primary hull (the “saucer”) is easily distinguished from paint applied during previous restoration work on the bridge. The original paint has started to show signs of “traction cracking” due to shrinkage with age. Note, that the brightness and contrast on this photo have been adjusted slightly to provide a better view of the details. Photo Courtesy of Malcolm Collum

To support that effort, the Museum has invited a special advisory committee of industry experts to offer information, research, and advice to help the Museum make the final aesthetic and structural decisions about the conservation and display of this cultural icon. The special advisors are a “Who’s Who” in the industry, and I’m delighted that they have agreed to help. To start our work, we’ve already held an initial video teleconference, which resulted in this fun “Brady Bunch” photo of us all.

The special advisory committee of industry experts.

The special advisory committee includes (in alphabetical order):

Doug Drexler
Doug Drexler is an Academy Award-winning visual effects artist, designer, sculptor, illustrator, and makeup artist. His credits include Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and subsequent Star Trek films. He is also known for designing the NX-01 Enterprise and the Enterprise J.

John Goodson
John Goodson is a studio model maker and digital modeling artist for Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) who worked on four Star Trek films. He was first a model maker on Star Trek VI and then became the model supervisor for Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact.

Gary Kerr
A well-known hobby industry designer, archivist, and author, Gary Kerr consulted for CBS on the production of the 2006 remastered Star Trek: The Original Series, for the CBS Digital team.

Mike and Denise Okuda
Michael Okuda was the lead graphic designer for four Star Trek TV shows and seven Trek movies. Denise Okuda was a graphic artist and video coordinator for the show.  They are the authors of the Star Trek Encyclopedia and other Trek reference works.  Mike and Denise recently served as technical consultants for the HD remastering of the original Star Trek series and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Andrew Probert
Andrew Probert is an artist who is best known for designing the USS Enterprise for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Enterprise-D for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Adam Schneider
A Star Trek studio model collector, Schneider restored the Shuttle Craft Galileo, a full-size prop from the original Star Trek series. The Galileo prop is now on display at the NASA Johnson Space Center’s visitor’s center in Houston, Texas.

Rick Sternbach
Richard Sternbach is an illustrator who is best known for his space illustrations and his work on the Star Trek television series, which began with Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1978.

John Van Citters
The Vice President for Product Development at CBS Consumer Products, Van Citters has worked on Star Trek for 16 years.

As an artifact, the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model has been treated three times during its history at the Museum: in 1974, 1984, and 1991. It has not had any significant treatment other than basic dusting, however, since 2000. The current work comes after years of internal planning; I have been researching and organizing this relocation of the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model since 2011. You can see the model in person in the Conservation Lab during the Udvar-Hazy Center Open House on Saturday, January 24th. I’ll be on site all day, talking about the model’s history and its future. Or check back here. The public will be kept apprised of the Museum’s progress on the artifact conservation via the Museum website and other social media platforms.

Margaret A. Weitekamp, Ph.D. is a curator for the Space History Department

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So, you got a drone for the Holidays…now what?

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The year 2014, may well be called the “year of the drone.” While militaries around the world (and the United States in particular) have become increasingly dependent on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) (the gender neutral “uninhabited” has yet to catch on) over the past decade and a half, this year civilian users overtook military operators by an order of magnitude. At a recent industry forum, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that, as of earlier this fall, Amazon alone was selling 8,000 units per month of remotely piloted aircraft. Presumably, as the holiday season comes to a close, this number will skyrocket even further. Regardless, thousands of Americans may be gifted a drone of some form this season. As one British journalist has noted, this situation can be a recipe for trouble.

What Not to Do #1: One new drone operator in Manhattan found that operating a new drone is not as simple as it first appears to be. After nearly seriously injuring a pedestrian, the FAA levied a fine against the operator. His actions also contributed to a new ordinance under consideration that would ban drones entirely from New York City.

Many of these gifts will truly be “toys” (pretty much anything under the $500 threshold). Most are only suitable for indoor flight under calm air conditions and pose little risk other than enraging a sibling or becoming entangled in your daughter’s hair (I speak from personal experience here). However, a number will undoubtedly fall into a category that has been causing FAA administrators another form of hair loss.

Personal drones offer the ability to explore the world in remarkable new ways.

Personal drones, or small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) as the industry prefers to call them, allow hobbyists, enthusiasts, and entrepreneurs of all stripes to engage with the outside world in new and exciting ways. Just take a look at the remarkable Travel By Drone website to get some idea of the possible uses. We are witness to one of the most exciting aeronautical revolutions since the dawn of the Jet Age. Even if you don’t personally want to participate in drone operations, our news reports, reality TV shows, and Hollywood film productions are increasingly shaped by their use. Likewise, corporations and government agencies are increasingly relying on sUAS to supplement or replace other forms of inspection and surveillance. Even farmers are getting into the act. While Amazon delivery drones may be very far off, advances in microprocessors, software, and cameras give an operator with $1,200 worth of equipment the ability to acquire images that would have previously required the rental of helicopters at upwards of $600 per hour. There is much one can do with even a limited sUAS capability, ranging from taking “dronies” to photographing publicity shots for real estate (an activity barred by the FAA, but which is still broadly undertaken).

What Not to Do #2: A wedding photographer (one of those unapproved commercial applications) strikes the bride in the head with his quadcopter.

Unfortunately, the instinct of many new sUAS operators is to fly first and learn later. Not only is this urge likely to lose your investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars, but you are also establishing a pattern of reckless behavior that can put the safety of others at risk, run afoul of the law, or upset your neighbors. The personal drone, like any revolutionary technology, has come with its share of teething troubles. Much like some early adopters of the automobile became notorious for making a nuisance of themselves by violating the norms of the road at the start of the 20th century, some less than astute drone operators have accidentally, and sometimes intentionally, crossed the line leading to a cultural and legislative backlash. Most worrisome are instances where these systems are operated in close proximity to commercial airports, resulting in near collisions that have the potential for catastrophic damage.

What Not to Do #3: This is the FAA’s greatest fear for personal drones. Had this drone drifted into the path of the airliner, it could have come through the cockpit window or destroyed an engine with potentially fatal consequences.

At the other end of the spectrum are worries over violations of privacy due to “peeping Tom” drones. I believe the latter concern is somewhat overblown as the technical ability of most of these systems to stealthily peer into homes has been nowhere what the public and popular media seem to think it is. The truth is that the camera systems required to capture high resolution images in poor light and from significant distances have to be mounted on sophisticated and expensive platforms that are anything but stealthy. Most of the high profile stories about privacy violations have fallen apart under increased scrutiny. However, the situation is fluid and newer lightweight drones are advertising 4K camera capability, and privacy issues will continue to be one more highly contentious aspect of the drone revolution.

What Not to Do #4: Operating drones over crowds is a big no-no and is likely to land you in trouble even if you don’t injure anyone.

Some commentators have referred to the current sUAS regulatory environment as the “Wild West,” though this is rapidly beginning to change. The FAA has announced that new rules are imminent, and anyone with a personal drone would be well advised to pay close attention when they are announced. The agency has received considerable criticism for its slow response to the rapid rise of personal drones, which most observers have characterized as reactive rather than proactive. It is certainly true that nations like Canada and Australia appear to be ahead of the curve (or are at least keeping pace) with the issue using some common sense rules, but there are understandable reasons for the FAA’s slow response. First is that the FAA’s top concern is the safety and efficiency of commercial air transport, which has resulted in American commercial aviation being the safest form of transport on the planet. The downside is that this reinforces a methodical and conservative approach to new rulemaking that is not well suited to revolutionary technologies.

A second problem is the general lack of good technical solutions to the problem of integrating personal drones that can reach altitudes of thousands of feet and cover miles of distance while remaining difficult to see visually or on radar. The preferred technologies for monitoring air traffic, like ADS-B, are expensive and heavy, making them unsuitable for sUAS. GPS can be used for “geofencing” and altitude limiting to keep them out of no-go areas, but the problem of how to certify and verify the installation of such software in the tens of thousands of drones currently or soon to be flying is a daunting challenge for which there are no easy answers.

Thirdly, our society has yet to come to terms with some fundamental questions. The case law of airspace ownership above your property is amazingly limited. While the FAA clearly controls what’s 500 feet and above your property, the question of whether a drone hovering above your pool at 200 feet is trespassing has not been resolved. Certainly, the reasonable person test suggests that the vast majority of property owners would be very concerned and/or upset.

While there is a large community of do-it-yourself “dronethusiasts” who began with a kit and sometimes even coding software, the majority of drone operators today are getting into the hobby with off-the-shelf products.  France’s Parrot introduced thousands to the hobby with their Bluetooth-controlled AR.Drone, first released in 2010. The release of the AR.Drone helped increase the popularity of drones due to its relatively safe design, including being light enough to prevent serious injury or damage. It also lacked the range to get in the way of air traffic, making it tolerant to beginners.

However, China’s DJI now dominates the personal drone industry with its Phantom, which debuted in 2012. The drone almost singlehandedly transformed the personal drone market. The do-it-yourself community generally consisted of individuals attracted by the thrill of remotely piloting a drone and viewed the drone’s camera as an added bonus. The DJI Phantom, in conjunction with the proliferation of GoPro cameras, ushered in an entirely new category of hobbyists that have come to dominate the personal drone market – individuals who are attracted by the YouTube aspect of the hobby (the ability to download high definition photography from entirely new perspectives). Herein lies the problem, as for many in this category of enthusiasts, piloting has often taken a back seat to getting exciting videos. Not only can the Phantom class of drone climb to thousands of feet and cover miles before it runs out of battery power, it is also complex enough that simply attempting to fly it “out of the box” with no experience can result in a “flyaway” when the drone heads off on its own accord or fails to respond to the pilot’s will. There is even a “DJI Flyaway & Crash Psychological Support Page” on Facebook.

What Not to Do #5: This DJI Phantom operator demonstrates not only a lack of responsibility by overflying a crowd in an urban environment, but also demonstrates a lack of control over the drone.

Probably the smartest thing you can do upon becoming the owner of a personal drone is to pay a visit to the nearest Academy of Model Aeronautics Flying Field. There you can touch base with other operators who are familiar with the rules of the road and courteous behavior, and who have insights into the skills necessary to safely operate remotely piloted aircraft. Most importantly, you can then develop a training program to become familiar with your new toy before putting it at risk or posing a hazard or annoyance to others.

Even assuming that the new drone owner takes the time to learn the nuances of control before diving in, there are some serious operational considerations for the casual user that are essential to learn at the outset. At the top of the list is avoiding air traffic, which means staying at least five miles from airports and remaining below 400 feet above ground level. Staying out of restricted airspace is essential. Examples run the gamut from Washington DC’s Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), which covers nearly the whole of the Beltway region, to Camp David, Department of Defense facilities, and nuclear power plants. National Parks are also off limits to drone operators. States and localities are also passing their own regulations that can vary widely. This requires an awareness of airspace and policy that is foreign to the non-pilot. Even when avoiding aircraft and problematic airspace, there is much to consider. Drones at sporting events are an invitation to big trouble, but so is flight in urban environments – or any built up environment for that matter. The Canadian commonsense rule of not flying within 150 meters of people, animals, structures, or vehicles will save many tears.

What Not to Do #6: Flying near landmarks is likely to bring unwanted police attention, and puts the hobby into a negative light.

One of the hottest trends in remote piloting is the use of First Person View to make it feel as if you are actually in the cockpit of the drone through the use of VR goggles. However, this is strictly off limits according to the FAA and the drone must remain within the line of sight of the operator at all times.

Lastly, the FAA is reasonably tolerant of well-behaved hobbyists, but if you are going to use the drone in support of commercial activity, you need to know you are entering some highly contested waters. There are only a handful of officially sanctioned operations at present. There are hundreds, if not thousands of others in this country who are using sUAS in unsanctioned operations (tune into nearly any reality TV show to see for yourself). However, such operations will be under increasing scrutiny and the liability exposure could be significant as most policies are not likely to cover extralegal commercial operations with sUAS.

So be good [with your drone] for goodness sake! – lest you incur the wrath of the FAA (or Krampus).

Note: The FAA has just released its own web page and video briefing on what to do with your new holiday drone.

Roger Connor is a museum specialist in the Aeronautics Department who curates the museum’s drone collection.

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Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

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Washington, DC, always awaits its first real snow day with anticipation and trepidation. I was curious what the National Air and Space Museum collections had in the way of snow activities. I learned that the Museum has Charles Lindbergh’s snowshoes and sled; in the photo archives, I found the usual snowy vista backgrounds with airplanes in the foreground; and then I came across a classic snowman pose with a twist!

A cadet of the Gatchina Military Flying School stands between snowmen of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I (left) and German Kaiser Wilhelm II (right). NASM 90-8290

In his memoir, Gatchina Days: Reminiscences of a Russian Pilot, Alexander Riaboff recalls training in 1916 at Russia’s Gatchina Military Flying School, just south of St. Petersburg. Flying obsolete pre-war Farman aircraft was dangerous. Riaboff remembers accidentally crashing his aircraft on his first flight, since he wasn’t really supposed to take off and hadn’t yet learned to land. Crashes were frequent and several of his classmates did not survive the cadet program.

Although the cadets were training for a serious purpose, their days were not without light-hearted moments. Riaboff writes of holding a massive party celebrating a promotion that disturbed the neighbors. His photo collection, in the National Air and Space Museum Archives, contains a photograph of snowman caricatures of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II. I especially like the stylish snow pickelhaube and twig mustache!

Enjoy the winter and best of luck trying to get a certain song out of your head!

Elizabeth C. Borja is an archivist in the Museum’s Archives Department and enjoys making light of the DC area’s reactions to snow.

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Obscure Objects: Tom Stafford’s Jingle Bells and Wally Schirra’s Harmonica

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It is not unusual for astronauts who find themselves in space around December 25 to display a little holiday spirit. Gemini VI astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra were no exception.

Tom Stafford’s jingle bells carried aboard Gemini VI in December 1965. Gift of Walter M. Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford Jr.

Gemini VI was originally scheduled to launch on October 25, 1965 and dock with the unmanned Agena Target Vehicle, but the flight was canceled after the target vehicle blew up shortly after its launch. The mission was quickly changed to a rendezvous with Gemini VII, which would carry Jim Lovell and Frank Borman on a long endurance flight. Gemini VII was launched for its 14-day mission on December 4, 1965.

On December 12, the renamed Gemini VI-A launch attempt ended in a frightening engine cut-off on the pad. Thanks to the crew’s coolness, they did not eject, which would have ruined the spacecraft and endangered the astronauts’ lives. Their second launch attempt on December 15 was a success.

On that date, Gemini VI-A pulled within 0.3 meters (1 foot) of Gemini VII. It was the first time in history that two vehicles had maneuvered to meet in space for a rendezvous. They flew in formation for about five hours. Then, just before Gemini VI-A was set to reenter Earth’s atmosphere December 16, Tom Stafford made a radio transmission:

“We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit….very low, looks like he might be going to re-enter soon….Standby one, you might just let me try to pick up that thing.”

At that point, the sound of a tiny harmonica, accompanied by small sleigh bells, could be heard playing the well-known holiday tune, “Jingle Bells.” Schirra played the harmonica, while Stafford jingled the bells. It was the first musical interlude from space. Hear the transmission.

“Wally came up with the idea,” Stafford told Smithsonian magazine for a 2005 article. “He could play the harmonica, and we practiced two or three times before we took off, but of course we didn’t tell the guys on the ground. We never considered singing, since I couldn’t carry a tune in a bushel basket.”

Wally Schirra’s 8-note Hohner “Little Lady” harmonica. Gift of Walter M. Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford Jr.

The two astronauts had prepared for the performance by attaching dental floss and Velcro to the instruments so they could be hung on the wall of the spacecraft when not being used.

Stafford and Schirra donated the instruments to the National Air and Space Museum in 1967. They are on display in the Apollo to the Moon exhibition in the Museum in Washington, DC.

Kathleen Hanser is a writer-editor in the Office of Communications.

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