AidSpace Blog

Remembering Noel W. Hinners

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Noel W. Hinners
Scientist, NASA Administrator, Museum Director
1935 – 2014

Portrait of Dr. Noel Hinners

Portrait of Dr. Noel Hinners

Noel Hinners served as director of the National Air and Space Museum from 1979 through 1982. He expanded the intellectual scope of the curatorial departments and fostered greater attention to the space sciences, a reflection of his own remarkable career.

Born in New York and raised in Chatham, New Jersey, Hinners entered Rutgers University to study agricultural research but became interested in geology. He pursued geochemistry as a master’s student at Caltech. Contact with advanced studies in meteoritics and solar system science propelled him to Princeton for a PhD in geophysics and geochemistry. In 1963 he accepted a job at Bellcomm in Washington, D.C., a major contractor for the Apollo program.

At Bellcomm Hinners led the effort to select Apollo lunar landing sites and helped develop lunar field geology for Apollo and train astronauts for it. He showed early talent for management. “My whole career has been built on just surrounding myself with the best people I could find, letting them do their job,” he said. “If they don’t, change them out.”

Hinners joined NASA in 1972 as director of lunar programs. Soon promoted to associate administrator for space science, he championed planetary research. He left NASA in 1979 to become the first scientist to run the new National Air and Space Museum, where he joined former colleague Farouk El Baz, who had established the Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies. He returned to NASA in 1982 as director of Goddard Space Flight Center and later became the agency’s first associate deputy administrator and chief scientist. After leaving NASA in 1989, he joined Martin Marietta, where he took part in a wide range of planetary mission activities until his retirement in 2002.

Noel Hinners was a leading light in the pursuit of lunar and planetary science. He is warmly remembered for his humor, collegiality, and effective management practices.

David DeVorkin is a senior curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum.

Moving the Star Trek Starship Enterprise Studio Model

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On September 11, 2014, the studio model of the Star Trek starship Enterprise, which has been on public display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum since 1976, was removed for conservation in preparation for its new display location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, which will open in July 2016. The announcement of the artifact’s inclusion in the transformed Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall was made on April 3, 2014.

A V-2 missile on display in the Space Race gallery at the Museum in Washington, DC

This 3.4 meter (11-foot) model of the Star Trek starship Enterprise will go on display in the reimagined Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.

The eleven-foot-long studio model was used in filming the original Star Trek television series, (NBC, 1966-1969). Paramount donated it to the National Air and Space Museum in 1974. Initially displayed beginning in September 1974 in the Arts and Industries Building’s Life in the Universe exhibit, this significant cultural icon has been displayed in various locations in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC since that building’s opening in July 1976, although it has also been off display occasionally. Since March of 2000, it had been in a custom-built display case on the lower level of the Museum’s store.

The Star Trek Starship Enterprise being removed from the Museum Shop

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

As an almost 50-year-old artifact, the Star Trek starship Enterprise studio model needs some conservation before it can go back on display. It has been previously treated three times during its history at the Museum: in 1974, 1984, and 1991, but has not had any significant treatment other than basic dusting since 2000. The final plan for the model’s treatment will depend upon what is found during the physical examination of the artifact. It was taken off display in mid-September 2014 so that the Museum’s conservators have enough time for close evaluation and research.

The Museum’s general approach emphasizes conservation over preservation and preservation over restoration. Restoration is bringing an object back to its appearance and condition at a determined point in time in the past. With a restoration approach, there is less concern for preserving original materials and more focus on returning to the original specification, often through the addition of non-original materials. Preservation is an overall philosophy that favors keeping original material over creating an ideal physical appearance, while keeping the artifact from deteriorating any more. Conservation follows the preservation philosophy and is minimally invasive, utilizing scientific investigation and techniques to maintain original materials, preserving the object’s physical history of ownership and use.

Enterprise moving off display

The Star Trek starship Enterprise Studio Model being moved through the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.

The Enterprise model will not be on public view while it is being evaluated and treated. It is being moved to the Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Check the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall website and follow the Museum on social media for updates on the treatment of the Enterprise model – and the other artifacts in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.

Margaret Weitekamp is a curator in the Space History Department of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

“Vengeance Weapon 2”: 70th Anniversary of the V-2 Campaign

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Shortly after 11:00 am on September 8, 1944, there was an explosion on the southeastern outskirts of newly liberated Paris. It killed six people and injured 36 more at Charentonneau à Maison-Alfort. That evening, about 6:43 pm, another explosion took place in Chiswick, in far west London, killing three people and seriously wounding 17. Seconds later a third occurred in a field outside Epping in Essex, north of the city, harming no one. Thus began the world’s first ballistic missile campaign—one of only three ever (the others took place during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and the 1991 Persian Gulf War).

The missile involved was the German Army’s A-4, announced by Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels two months later as Vergeltungswaffe 2, “Vengeance Weapon 2“ or V-2. It followed the V-1, the world’s first operational cruise missile, which the Germans began launching against Britain, and later Belgium, in June 1944. He delayed the V-2’s unveiling due the disappointment in the German populace when the exaggerated hopes raised by V-1 propaganda, including that Britain would be knocked out of the war, proved false. Goebbels did not want another letdown. When his Ministry announced it, so did British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had first learned about the rocket in 1943 from Allied intelligence.

A V-2 missile on display in the Space Race gallery at the Museum in Washington, DC

A V-2 missile on display in the Space Race gallery at the Museum in Washington, DC.

The V-2 was a spectacular weapon: the most advanced device deployed in World War II until the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. A liquid-fuel rocket 14 meters (46 feet) tall and weighing almost 13 metric tons (over 28,000 lbs) at launch, it traveled nearly 300 kilometers (200 miles) in five minutes. Carrying a one-ton high-explosive warhead, it made a formidable crater when it impacted supersonically. Thanks to that velocity, the noise of it rushing through the air came after the sound of the explosion—if you were lucky enough to not be at the point of impact.

Yet, like the V-1, it was no “wonder weapon.” Despite having a highly sophisticated and pioneering inertial guidance system using gyroscopes and an analog computer, the V-2 could barely hit a giant urban area part of the time, as the technology was not sufficiently advanced. It was an extraordinarily expensive way to drop a one-ton bomb on a city—at a time when the Western Allies were deploying up to 1,000 bombers in single air raids, with the effect of killing thousands or tens of thousands at a time. (Hence the “vengeance” label given by Goebbels.) Rather than coming too late to change the course of the war, the V-2 (and V-1) came too early to be effective. The Army and Waffen-SS launched over 3,000 rockets, primarily against London and Antwerp, but the ones that actually reached a populated target only killed about 5,000 people.

Against that total must be put the 10-20,000 concentration-camp prisoners who died in the SS camps connected to V-2 manufacturing. That makes it a rare and peculiar weapon—more than twice as many people died as the result of making it than did being hit by it. And the V-2’s appalling production also left the Allies with a moral problem after the war, one they found necessary to cover up, at least in part. The United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France were the real beneficiaries of Germany’s vast and wasteful expenditure on rocket technology, and they did so by taking personnel as well as documents, missiles, and equipment, to their countries. Notably, the U.S., which got the military and engineering leaders of the V-2 program, Gen. Walter Dornberger and Dr. Wernher von Braun, deliberately ignored or obscured their involvement with concentration-camp labor, as the Germans were too useful for the new missile arms race that ensued during the Cold War.

The V-2 was a revolutionary technological device. The space launch vehicles and the intercontinental ballistic missiles of the world virtually all trace their origin, one way or another, to this rocket. It was the first human-built object to reach space, during German test launches in 1943/44, and again in U.S. and Soviet firings after the war. But it also helped create the specter of nearly instantaneous global nuclear war. Even today, long-range missiles sit in silos and submarines of the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan and others. We can only hope that there are no more ballistic missile campaigns, or if there are, they are again conducted only with high-explosive warheads.

Michael J. Neufeld is a senior curator in the Space History Department, where he manages the collections of rockets and missiles to 1945, and Mercury and Gemini spacecraft. He is the author of “Von Braun” and “The Rocket and the Reich,” and he edited and introduced “Planet Dora,” the memoirs of French V-2 concentration-camp survivor Yves Béon. His recent publications include three edited volumes: “Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum” (2010), “Spacefarers” (2013) and “Milestones of Space” (2014).

Remembering Steven R. Nagel (1946-2014)
Colonel, USAF (Ret.) and Astronaut

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Steven R. Nagel

Steven R. Nagel. Credit: NASA

A veteran of four space shuttle flights, Steven Nagel first flew as a mission specialist on Discovery’s fifth trip into space before serving as pilot or commander on his subsequent flights. He was one of only a few astronauts to fly in all three roles.

Nagel was a member of the 1978 Astronaut Class 8, the first group selected for the space shuttle program. From 1985 through 1993, he flew on four of the five orbiters, each time landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

He flew twice in 1985, a record year of nine shuttle missions. On Discovery’s STS-51G mission, the crew, which included a prince from Saudi Arabia, deployed three communications satellites and the SPARTAN scientific satellite. Nagel then served as pilot on Challenger’s last successful flight, STS-61A, a Spacelab research mission sponsored and managed by Germany with a record-setting crew of eight.

STS-61A Crew Portrait

The eight-member STS-61A crew pose with the patch for the first German (D-1 for Deutsche 1) Spacelab mission. Credit: NASA

After the 1986 Challenger tragedy, Nagel participated in the recovery effort and development of a crew escape system for future missions. He said that preparing for the shuttle’s return to flight was the most fulfilling time in his career.

On Nagel’s third mission, STS-37 on Atlantis in 1991, the crew deployed the Gamma Ray Observatory, the second of NASA’s four Great Observatories, which included the Hubble Space Telescope, for studying the universe from space. The second German Spacelab mission, STS-55 on Columbia in 1993, was his final command. In all, Nagel spent 723 hours (30 days) in space.

STS-61A Crew Portrait

The STS-37 crew posed in flight on Atlantis after deploying the Gamma Ray Observatory. The railroad sign refers to a small equipment cart on rails tested by Jay Apt and Jerry Ross during an EVA in the payload bay. Credit: NASA

A native of Illinois and graduate of the University of Illinois, Nagel entered the Air Force in 1969 through the ROTC program. Already a licensed pilot, he completed Air Force pilot training, flew the F-100, and become a T-38 instructor. After graduating from Air Force Test Pilot School, he flew primarily the F-4 and A-7D, and logged a total of 12,600 flight hours in various aircraft. Colonel Nagel received the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross and other Air Force and NASA medals.

Nagel retired from the Air Force and the astronaut corps in 1995 but continued working at NASA in management and research pilot positions until 2011. He and his wife, astronaut Dr. Linda M. Godwin, then took teaching positions at her alma mater, the University of Missouri.

Valerie Neal is a curator in the Space History Department of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Discovery’s First Mission 30 Years Ago

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Discovery entered service in 1984 as the third orbiter in the space shuttle fleet. Columbia and Challenger had already flown a total of 11 missions as America’s “space truck.” Discovery’s first mission, STS-41D, followed suit as the crew deployed, for the first time, three communications satellites, but it also signaled how the shuttle could serve as more than a delivery vehicle.

Discovery’s first mission began with drama—three launch delays, the first on-pad engine shutdown (just four seconds before liftoff), a related fire on the launch pad, and rollback from the pad for a major payload shuffle—but after launch it progressed well. All but mission commander Henry Hartsfield were first-time flyers, and mission specialist/remote manipulator arm operator Judy Resnik became the second American woman in space.

STS-41D Launch

After two scrubs and one long delay, Discovery finally launched on the fourth attempt. Credit: NASA

The crew released one satellite a day to start the mission: first the SBS for Satellite Business Systems, then a LEASAT (SYNCOM) for the United States Navy, and finally a TELSTAR for AT&T. After each deployment, the orbiter moved away before the time-delayed ignition of a boost motor sent the satellite to its ultimate orbit, some 35,400 kilometers (22,300 miles) high above the equator. The SBS and TELSTAR left the payload bay spinning like tops. The largest of the three, LEASAT was the first wide-body satellite designed for launch from the space shuttle; it rolled out on its side after a spring-loaded trigger pitched it out like a slow-motion Frisbee.


Before release, the 6 meter (20-foot) long LEASAT (SYNCOM) communications satellite lay behind the SBS satellite in the payload bay with its antennae folded against the 4.2 meter (14 foot) diameter top. Credit: NASA

Both the crew portrait and mission patch depicted the orbiter with an odd feature that looked like a tower rising from the payload bay. It was a ten-story, 13-feet wide, lightweight solar array, accordion-pleated for compact stowage – at that time the largest structure ever deployed in space. From the aft flight deck, the crew extended and retracted the array several times to observe its operation and stability. This new technology experiment used the shuttle as a test bed for evaluating large structures needed for a future space station.

Solar Array width=

NASA offered its corporate customers the opportunity to send their own payload specialist to conduct research in space. The first non-astronaut to fly on the shuttle, test engineer Charles Walker of McDonnell Douglas, tended to a commercial materials processing experiment of interest to the pharmaceutical industry. This program showcased the shuttle’s usefulness for commercial research into the feasibility of manufacturing in space.

Discovery checked out well in space. However, one surprise drew attention: an icicle about two feet long and a foot in diameter, composed of wastewater and urine, jutted out from a dump port just beyond the crew hatch, where it threatened to damage the open payload bay door. The crew rotated the orbiter to expose that side to direct sunlight and reduce the ice mass, then tapped it gently with the robotic arm to break it loose.

The successful STS-41D mission confirmed the shuttle’s versatility as a delivery vehicle, technology test bed, and research environment. More than 20 of Discovery’s 39 missions also involved deliveries, but this orbiter began its career serving multiple purposes at once.

Mission data
Date: August 30-September 5, 1984 Liftoff at 08:41:50 a.m. EDT
Duration: 6 days, 0 hours, 56 minutes
Profile: 28.5 deg. inclination, 201 miles (175 n. miles / 324 km) altitude, 97 orbits
Landing: Edwards Air Force Base, California at 06:37:54 a.m. PDT

Commander: Henry W. Hartsfield, Jr., USAF, his 2nd of three flights
Pilot: Michael L. Coats, USN, his 1st of three flights, all on Discovery
Mission Specialists:
Judith A. Resnik, electrical engineer, her 1st of two flights
Steven A. Hawley, astronomer-astrophysicist, his 1st of five flights, three on Discovery
Richard M. (Mike) Mullane, USAF, aeronautical engineer, his 1st of three flights
Payload Specialist: Charles D. Walker, McDonnell Douglas, test engineer, his 1st of three flights, two on Discovery

Valerie Neal is the Space Shuttle curator in the National Air and Space Museum’s Space History Department.