AidSpace Blog

Remembering Astronautics and Museum Leader Frederick Clark Durant III

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From left, Frederick Clark Durant III, curator Tom Crouch, and Wernher von Braun.

We have a tradition at the National Air and Space Museum of recognizing the passing of aerospace leaders with a temporary memorial panel displayed for a time on the Museum floor. Once in a while, one of those individuals was not only a figure of some importance in the wider world, but someone of special significance for those of us at the Museum. Such is certainly the case with Fred Durant. I wrote the public memorial panel marking his passing, the text of which is provided below. In this case, however, I wanted to share something a bit more personal. I went to work for Fred on February 2, 1974, when the offices of what was then the Astronautics Department were in the historic red brick Arts and Industries Building. Looking back over more than 41 years, I can say that he was the best boss I ever had. He genuinely cared for those who worked for him and was dedicated to helping them share their passion for the past, present, and future of flight with the public in the most effective and appealing way possible.

In 1975-76, when we were busy filling the new building with exhibit galleries that would open to the world on July 1, Wernher von Braun was serving as NASA’s deputy associate administrator for planning, with an office just across Independence Avenue. He would walk over occasionally and call up his old friend Fred Durant, requesting to see some new space display that was approaching completion. On the day the above photo was taken, Fred asked me to show our distinguished visitor one of Robert H. Goddard’s rockets being prepared for display. I treasure this photo as a reminder of a day spent with two men who shaped the early history of the space age.

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Frederick Clark Durant III
Astronautics Authority and Museum Leader
1916–2015

A native of Ardmore, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of Lehigh University, Fred Durant emerged as an authority on rocketry and spaceflight following World War II. After serving as a naval aviator, test pilot, and flight instructor during the war, he entered the field of rocketry while working for Bell Aircraft. He later worked for the U.S. Navy Rocket Test Station, Arthur D. Little, Avco-Everett Research Laboratory, and Bell Aerospace Systems and advised the Central Intelligence Agency on international space and missile programs. Durant played a key role in Project Orbiter, a joint U.S. Navy–Army project to develop a minimum-weight satellite. Explorer 1, the first U.S. satellite, was an outgrowth of that project.

Durant was elected president of the American Rocket Society in 1953, helped organize the International Astronautical Federation, and served as its first president. He was a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society, the German Society for Aviation and Space Flight, the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Durant joined the National Air and Space Museum as a consultant in 1964 and became Assistant Director of Astronautics the following year. He led the Museum into the space age and spearheaded the effort to build the world’s finest collection of historic spacecraft and equipment. Under his leadership, the Museum acquired every spacecraft but one in which Americans traveled into space and to the Moon from 1961 to 1972. Thanks to his efforts, the Museum today remains the world’s leading institution for the collection, preservation, study, and display of space artifacts. He also helped build its space art collection and later donated his own collection of space art to the Museum.

After his retirement from the Museum in 1980, Durant served as a historian and consultant with Intelsat and continued to write about rocketry and space exploration. He and Ron Miller won the prestigious Hugo Award for their book The Art of Chesley Bonestell. Durant’s circle of lifelong friends included Wernher von Braun and Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

Tom Crouch is senior curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.

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Comparing Alan Eustace’s Spacesuit with Neil Armstrong’s

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Our conservation team had the pleasure of hosting Alan Eustace, former Google executive, engineer, and stratospheric explorer, this month in the Emil Buehler Conservation Laboratory. Eustace and his StratEx team are well known for their three world records including one for the highest altitude jump at 41,422 meters (135,899 feet) in 2014. The adventurer was in town giving a lecture about his historic jump and to donate to the Museum the suit, life support, and balloon equipment module he used during the jump.

This visit was especially exciting for our team as we are busily working on our project to preserve Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit. It was a pleasure to talk to Eustace about his historic jump and to see the one-of-a-kind spacesuit he wore to the outer edges of the atmosphere. We couldn’t help but compare the materials, technology, and engineering of his suit to the spacesuit created for Neil Armstrong 45 years ago. It was amazing to see what has changed and what hasn’t.

Alan Eustace is photographed behind Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit along with Museum staff. Image: Lisa Young, Smithsonian

ILC Dover, formerly the International Latex Company, made both suits, and they are remarkably similar. The suits share the same primary function, to keep the wearer alive long enough to complete their mission and return safely to Earth. Both suits did this very well.

Eustace’s suit resembles those worn by Shuttle astronauts and utilizes modern materials that were not available in the 1960s. However, both suits do share a similar protective outer covering, or Thermal Micrometeoroid Garment (TMG). The TMG is used to keep its wearer safe from extreme temperature differences, radiation, and particles in space. Each TMG consists of more than 20 layers of fabric. Many of those materials have remained the same since Apollo. These include protective materials such as aluminized Mylar, Dacron, and Kapton.

The interior restraint layer of each suit is also similar in function, although different types of engineering hardware and material updates were used to make Eustace’s suit. The main function of the restraint system was to make sure its wearer (pilot or astronaut) could remain in position, have flexibility and mobility, and be able to complete tasks while under pressure. While Eustace’s restraint layer had several modern updates, both suits used the traditional cable and pulley systems including anodized aluminum alloy hardware with the similar connectors and locks. These locking mechanisms are also found on the helmet and gloves that attach them to the suits. Eustace did comment, however, that he had to adapt his gloves so that he could release his helmet lock with one hand. Eustace also wore a liquid cooling garment under his suit to keep his body temperature cool. This was a system that was adapted for the Gemini program, but primarily used in Apollo and has been in use ever since.

Alan Eustace descends to Earth after breaking Felix Baumgartner’s record for highest altitude jump on October 24, 2014. Image by Dave Jourdan / Paragon Space Development Corporation

The biggest difference between the suits is the materials that were used to create the pressure bladder. Early Apollo suits used a combination of natural and synthetic rubber to form the pressure bladder. The system was state of the art at the time but was not meant to last long term. The rubber is one of our biggest challenges to preserving Armstrong’s spacesuit—its intended working life was only meant to be six months. With the evolution of materials following Apollo 14, engineers at ILC were able to add an antioxidant to the rubber formula that helped to expand the lifetime of the rubber components on future suits. Much like current extravehicular activity (EVA) suits worn on the International Space Station (ISS), Eustace’s suit has a polyurethane pressure bladder. This material has better aging properties, is readily available, is thinner, and more widely manufactured. It can also be changed out quickly if the suit needs to be repaired on the ISS. Although we do see degradation of the rubber used in Apollo spacesuits, it was the best material available at the time and it did its job very well by enabling astronauts to work and live on the lunar surface.

Having an opportunity to compare and contrast suits made 45 years apart was very exciting for our team. Hearing about Eustace’s experience making the jump, of course, was also fantastic. The research we are conducting now on spacesuits and how best to preserve, store, and display them will help ensure the long-term preservation of Eustace’s more modern suit along with our Apollo spacesuits.

Lisa Young is an objects conservator for the National Air and Space Museum

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Seven Tips for Visiting the Museum During the Holidays

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We’re gearing up for one of our busiest times of the year—the holidays! Our team of Visitor Services staff love to talk to visitors during this time. We enjoy learning where you’re visiting from and what made you add our Museum to your already impressively full itinerary. You can find us at the Welcome Center in blue vests, eager to hear your stories.

Now that we’re practically family, we wanted to share some tips to make your visit more enjoyable. We won’t even ask to be invited to your Thanksgiving dinner in return. These tips are a slight update from ones we shared in 2011, although much of our advice remains the same year after year.

The NACA wind tunnel fan in our Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. The Hall remains open while we work on a major renovation of the space. Learn more about the project and what you can see on display.

  1. Plan ahead!
    This will always be our #1 piece of advice. We want you to make the most out of your visit. Use our website to get a feel for what activities you and your family might want to participate in during your time with us. Remember, the Museum has two locations—one in Washington, DC and one in Chantilly, Virginia—with location-specific events. In Washington, we have the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater and the Albert Einstein Planetarium, both with many great shows to choose from. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia has the Airbus IMAX Theater. The Udvar-Hazy Center is the first Museum in the world to feature a dual 4K laser projection system with a 12 discrete channel sound system. This basically means the sharpest, brightest, clearest and most vivid images in town, and it sounds great too. A perfect holiday treat!Of course, both locations have free public programs running every day. We especially recommend planning ahead to join one of our public tours offered at 10:30 am and 1:00 pm daily. The younger members of your family may also enjoy joining a Story Time. If you’re feeling competitive, you can also gather your loved ones for a friendly (or, not-so-friendly) competition in our Simulator rides. The Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory also offers a unique experience the entire family can enjoy (located at the Museum in DC).Reviewing our security procedures ahead of time will also help you avoid any surprises when entering the Museum. For example, we love seeing your selfies on Facebook and Instagram, but please leave those selfie sticks at home!
  1. Utilize public transportation.
    If you’re visiting the Museum in DC, one of our most sincere recommendations is to leave your car at home and utilize public transportation (Metro, especially). This will save you from having to stock up on quarters to pay the parking meters. The Metro is tourist friendly! The nearest stop to the National Air and Space Museum is L’Enfant Plaza.If you’re headed to the Udvar-Hazy Center, remember there is a parking fee of $15. The parking fee is lifted every day at 4:00 pm, but public transportation is also an option.
  1. Come later! (If you can)
    The Museums are generally the busiest between 11:00 am and 4:00 pm. If you want to try to avoid crowds we recommend coming later in the day. It’s common for museums to have extended hours during the holiday season so you may want to plan your timing accordingly. If you have the luxury of being flexible, try visiting the Museum in DC towards the end of the day—especially on a day that we’re open until 7:30 pm. Your visit might be more pleasant and there will (probably) be a shorter line for the restrooms. The same goes for the Udvar-Hazy Center, which is open until 6:30 pm on certain dates.If you’re in DC, consider taking a walk around the monuments after the Museum closes. There’s nothing quite like seeing the Washington Monument in the moonlight. You can do this on foot, on bike, or on a tour bus. If you’re walking, wear comfortable shoes, and be prepared for a 3-mile trek (if you are intending to see the majority of the memorials). The area is safe, but it’s always important to be aware of your surroundings. Most walkways are well lit and fully accessible.
  1. Lunch … or dinner. And breakfast, too.
    No surprise here, museum food courts tend to be the busiest during peak meal times! We recommend eating a big breakfast at home before you come. If you’re eating inside a museum cafeteria you should be prepared for a crowd. If you’re visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center, note that you can leave and return without paying the parking fee a second time—this might be especially appealing if you’re interested in visiting one of the local restaurants for lunch (swing by the Welcome Center if you’d like recommendations from our volunteers).If you’re in DC, a local favorite is to have lunch at the Mitsitam Café, located inside the National Museum of the American Indian (right next door). There aren’t a lot of restaurants immediately near the National Mall, but Chinatown is a 15-minute walk away and has every type of dining experience you can imagine.
  1. Remember we’re open 364 days a year.
    The day after Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for us—only slightly less busy than our massive 4th of July crowds. But, don’t worry! We’re open every day except December 25. The days leading up to Christmas are especially pleasant (also convenient for last-minute gifts of spacesuits from our Museum Store!). The crowds pick up again the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
  1. Comfort is key.
    Both Museums are bigger than they look. Each of the two floors at the Museum in Washington is three blocks long! And the Udvar-Hazy Center is even larger. Wear comfortable shoes, layers of clothes, and bring water (which is allowed in all Smithsonian museums).
Udvar-Hazy Center

A panoramic view from the Boeing Aviation Hangar Overlook at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

  1. Ask us! No, really. We like it.
    Is there a specific artifact or exhibit you’re looking for? Want to keep the kids happy and busy? Want to plan where you’re headed next? Visit the Welcome Center to talk to a Visitor Services volunteer or staff member. We talk to visitors several hundred times per day (really, we counted!) and are happy to help you with whatever you need.
Welcome Center

The Welcome Center at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC

For help planning your visit, Visitor Services staff and volunteers can be reached at at (202) 633-2214 or send us an email at NASM-VisitorServices@si.edu. We’re looking forward to seeing you at the National Air and Space Museum soon!

Sarah daSilva is the visitor services manager at the National Air and Space Museum.

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Remembering Robert Willard Farquhar

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Robert Willard Farquhar
Mission Designer, Flight Director, Deep-Space Navigator
1932–2015

Robert W. Farquhar

Robert W. Farquhar and James L. Green at a 2010 symposium commemorating 25 years of comet discoveries. Image: Paul E. Alers / NASA

Known for devising innovative and intricate spacecraft trajectories, and for his whole-hearted dedication to robotic space exploration, Robert “Bob” Farquhar left a strong impression on the American space program. His career in aerospace began in the late 1950s, at the dawn of the age of interplanetary exploration, and his navigational skills shaped many of America’s deep-space “firsts” during the Space Race and beyond. His work at NASA and at the Applied Physics Laboratory included missions to the planets, comets, and asteroids. His colleagues described his missions as equal parts engineering feats and works of art.

Farquhar’s success at diverting the course of a spacecraft that had accomplished its primary mission and setting it on a new trajectory to accomplish more science, combined with his unwavering persistence, earned him the labels “hacker” and “space cowboy.” In 1978 he helped place the International Sun-Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) at a stable orbital position between the Earth and Sun (libration point L1) to monitor and study space weather, the first spacecraft ever put into such an orbit. In 1982 he sent the ISEE-3 on a second mission. Renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE), its new trajectory sent it through the tail of comet Giacobini-Zinner in 1985 and the tail of Halley’s Comet in 1986. Farquhar also served as flight director of the 1996 Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission, which studied asteroid 433 Eros. He advocated for a mission to Pluto and was mission designer on the recent New Horizons mission to the Kuiper Belt.

While writing his memoir, Fifty Years on the Space Frontier, Farquhar served as the 2007–2008 Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History at the Museum. He shared the 2001 National Air and Space Museum Trophy Award for Current Achievement with his fellow members of the NEAR Mission Team.

Matt Shindell is a curator in the Space History Department at the National Air and Space Museum

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From the Archives: A Company Thanksgiving

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Many families have their own Thanksgiving traditions that they faithfully recreate each November—Grandma’s stuffing, Aunt Jean’s serving platter, homemade cranberry sauce, or an insistence upon the canned sauce with ridges. After the meal, it may be nap time or football time. But the most common tradition is cooking and eating a big, fat Thanksgiving turkey.

The collections in the National Air and Space Museum Archives provide a cornucopia of images and information on the history of aviation and spaceflight, some with moments of Thanksgiving cheer. For example, in 1921, President Harding’s turkey arrived via airplane and wearing goggles.

A series of photographs from 1945 found in the John E. Parker Scrapbooks documents the Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation’s turkey giveaway for employees in St. Paul, Minnesota.

First, the barrels of turkeys are off-loaded from the truck at the Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. Image: NASM 9A12175-073-A.

The barrels of turkeys are lined up. Image: NASM 9A12175-072-B

The turkeys are then placed on a pallet for distribution. Image: NASM 9A12175-072-A

The employees wait in line for their turkey. Image: NASM 9A12175-073-B

Finally at the front of the line, it’s turkey time! Image: NASM12175-071-A

Turkeys in hand, Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation employees clock out for the day. There’s a lot of preparation to be done before these turkeys end up on the dinner table. Image: NASM 9A12175-71-B

Enjoy your Thanksgiving traditions. Just remember, it’s not advisable to drop turkeys from a helicopter.

Elizabeth C. Borja is an archivist in the Museum’s Archives Department. She has previously blogged about the Northwestern Aeronautical Corporation’s wooden scrapbook covers and hockey team.

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