On April 24, we passed another milestone in preparations to move the Horten 229 V3 center section from the Paul Garber Facility in Maryland to the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia. Collections staff positioned the jet onto a new steel frame that will support and steady the artifact, and provide the solid base for a cover that will encapsulate the artifact during the journey by road.
Collections Processing Unit staff member Anthony Wallace is working with transportation officials in Maryland and Virginia to obtain the permits required to haul the center section of the Horten 229 V3 over major highways around midnight to avoid traffic.
Russ Lee is a curator in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum.
This, the 87th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s epic solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1927, gives us an opportunity to revisit the diminutive Ryan airplane that carried the twentieth century’s best known aviator into history. The Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis has been in our care since April 30, 1928, when Lindbergh flew it to nearby Bolling Field, in Washington, D.C. where it was accepted into the Smithsonian’s collection of national treasures. Over the next few days, it was dismantled and physically towed through the streets of the nation’s capital to the Arts and Industries Building where it was lifted up and suspended. The Spirit has been on display at the Smithsonian ever since. It was moved once in 1948 to make room for the arrival of the original 1903 Wright Flyer and again in 1976 when it was installed in the National Air and Space Museum’s new building after a quick clean-up and conservation. Twice since then, the Spirit has been lowered, once in 1991 for a thorough inspection, and again in 2000 when it was moved out of harm’s way during a ceiling replacement project.
Just last month, Boeing announced a most generous donation of $30 million to the museum to promote our educational programs and to reimagine and reinvent our signature main hall. The gift will allow us to completely reinterpret what is now the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall and, for the purpose of this conversation, will allow us to lower the Spirit to the floor once again and give it the detailed inspection and conservation it deserves. We hope that we find that it is still in excellent shape. It was well-made by a team at Ryan who cared deeply and personally for the well-being of its young pilot.
The Spirit has been handled with great care since its arrival in the Smithsonian in 1928. The same can’t be said for its arrival in Paris a year earlier, on May 21, 1927.
After flying for more than 33 hours and well over 5,633 km (3,500 miles), Lindbergh arrived over Paris late in the evening. Paris was, and is, the “City of Light,” which made it easy for the exhausted young aviator to find his destination. His only problem was finding Le Bourget Airport in the dark. All he knew was that the field was somewhere northeast of the city. Cleverly he followed a line of lights that led in that direction. He assumed that no one would expect him so he carried several letters of introduction, just in case.
The letters weren’t necessary. The line of lights he was following was actually a chain of automobiles, with headlights blazing, fighting to get to Le Bourget before the gallant American landed. When he did land moments later, Lindbergh was immersed in a human wave of more than 150,000 exuberant well-wishers. In their excitement, the crowd swarmed Lindbergh and his aircraft. Lindbergh was rescued by noted French aviators George Delage and Michel Detroyat. The Spirit was not so lucky. Before airport officials and members of the French Air Force could cordon off the aircraft, souvenir hunters had grabbed at the aircraft tearing off pieces of fabric from the wings, fuselage, and tail. Deeply embarrassed, the French Air Force managed to move the Spirit to the safety of a nearby hangar where they patched the wings and replaced the fuselage fabric before Lindbergh returned several days later. They also replaced a small piece of fabric that had been removed from the right side of the rudder. One over-enthusiastic spectator cut-out the winged “R” insignia of Ryan Airlines, the manufacturer of the Spirit, and took it home. To this day, if you look closely, you will notice the winged “R” on the left side of the rudder, and the blank patch on the right. As for the missing “R” itself, one can only imagine that it still hangs above a fireplace somewhere in Paris.
F. Robert van der Linden is Chair of the Aeronautics Department and curator of special purpose aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum.
As people start making their summer vacation plans, I often daydream about traveling around the world. Then I realize that I don’t even need to leave the office to see far off places. The National Air and Space Museum Archives’ photography collection allows me to travel anywhere (and almost any time in the past 100 or so years)!
Moving inland, I make my way to the capital city of Rome and the independent city-state of the Vatican, where I view St. Peter’s Square and Basilica from a dirigible.
Desiring some excellent croissants and wine, I fly to Paris, France. I arrive on 17 August 1910 to witness Alfred Leblanc circling the Eiffel Tower to celebrate his Circuit de l’Est win.
I almost get lost on my way to 1916 Petrograd, Russia, forgetting that St. Petersburg was renamed in 1914 during WWI and then again as Leningrad in 1924, before returning to St. Petersburg in 1991.
Then, taking my cues from Barry Manilow, I sunbathe at the Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
Continuing my beach theme, I pass over Bermuda.
Finally, I return home to Washington, DC. But wait! It’s 1897 and William A. Eddy and Edward Herbert Young are standing on the lawn controlling a tandem of nine “Eddy kites” with a suspended camera to photograph the Capitol Building.
And then it’s back to the future and back to work! Enjoy your summer vacations—real or imagined—wherever they may take you!
Elizabeth C. Borja is an archivist in the National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Department.
Little more than 55 years ago, the thought of sending humans into space was only the makings of science fiction. On April 9, 1959, sci-fi and reality merged as NASA introduced the seven American astronauts who would participate in the first human spaceflight program in the United States, Project Mercury. Within four months of the announcement, all seven astronauts—Walter M. “Wally” Schirra Jr., Donald K. “Deke” Slayton, John H. Glenn Jr., M. Scott Carpenter, Alan B. Shepard Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, and L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. —and their wives had signed contracts with Life magazine for exclusive access to the astronauts, their families, and their individual roles in the “Space Race” story. The major cover story that ran in Life’s September 14, 1959, issue rocketed these astronauts, quickly nicknamed “the Mercury Seven,” to celebrity status.
Although Life held exclusive rights to the Mercury Seven’s stories, Look magazine developed a very different approach to covering the “Space Race” saga: What if a woman could be the first American in space? In 1959, Look arranged for Betty Skelton, accomplished aerobatics champion and race car driver, to participate in a series of physical and psychological tests like those given to the Mercury Seven astronauts—a space-age publicity stunt.
As an experienced pilot and adept (but unofficial) team member, Skelton held the respect of the Mercury Seven astronauts who admiringly referred to her as “eight.” (Listen to Skelton’s NASA oral history interview.)
Sadly, not participating in an official NASA capacity meant that this training opportunity would only serve to support Look’s February 2, 1960, cover story “Should a Girl Be First in Space?” While Skelton was acutely aware that a woman would not be among the first Americans in space, she nevertheless dutifully participated in this publicity stunt in the hopes of paving the way to a future where women could be anything they choose, including astronauts.
Amanda Buel is an archivist in the National Air and Space Museum’s Archives Department.
Soon after the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, images and data from its instruments revealed that its main mirror was optically flawed. It suffered from spherical aberration—not all portions of the mirror focused to the same point. The mirror’s shape was off by less than 1/50th the thickness of a human hair, but this tiny flaw proved devastating to the quality of the Hubble’s images and to the efficiency of all of its instruments.
This was a serious, but not fatal flaw. If the Hubble was like all other astronomical instruments lofted into orbit on rockets, it would have had to live out its operational life with that flaw, working at a fraction of peak efficiency. But Hubble was not like any other space telescope. It was designed to be serviced by astronauts visiting it on the space shuttle. That’s one reason why it was placed in a low earth orbit accessible by the shuttle.
The question now became, how could corrections be made? One option involved bringing it back to Earth and replacing the mirror with a backup (now on view in our Museum, in the Explore the Universe gallery). But NASA, encouraged by the expertise at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the Ball Aerospace Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, chose a different approach.
One instrument, the Wide-Field/Planetary Camera (WF/PC), already had an upgraded replacement available. Its engineering and science team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory knew how to adjust the optics within WFPC2 to compensate for the aberration in the primary mirror. For the other instruments, engineers created an optical box called COSTAR (Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement). It contained a set of five pairs of small mirrors on deployable arms that corrected the light beams entering the Hubble’s Faint Object Camera, Faint Object Spectrograph, and Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph. Fitted within a standard axial instrument enclosure, the small mirrors would deploy after launch and checkout, enter the reflected optical beam from the main mirror, and counteract its flaw, sending the corrected light to the other instruments.
COSTAR contained 10 optical elements, 12 motors, and over 5,000 individual parts. After being installed in the Hubble, each of its five optical channels had to be precisely aligned. In the end, COSTAR’s performance exceeded the original specifications. Given its complexity, the real challenge was to make it strong enough to withstand launch, and yet delicate enough to insert tiny mirrors into the Hubble’s optical field without disturbing any of the other components. A Ball Aerospace engineer came up with the solution while taking a shower in a German hotel, which was equipped with ingenious articulated shower heads.
After several more servicing missions through the 1990s, all the new instruments onboard Hubble had their own corrections for the flaw in the main mirror. Therefore COSTAR was no longer needed, and, given the rapid advance of solid state detector technologies through the decade, WFPC2 was no longer state of the art. NASA therefore planned another servicing mission to replace them with new more powerful cameras and detectors. But the shock of the Space Shuttle Columbia accident in February 2003 was deeply felt worldwide, making NASA cautious about flights that did not go to the International Space Station. Therefore, in 2004 NASA cancelled Hubble’s fourth servicing mission. Without it, the telescope’s life was projected to end by 2007. The decision incited uproar from scientists, the public, and Congress. Twenty-six former astronauts signed a petition in favor of keeping the Hubble alive.
The fifth and final Hubble servicing mission took place in May 2009 and was the most complex and demanding yet. During five spacewalks, Atlantis astronauts installed two new instruments, repaired two others, and performed extensive maintenance. They removed COSTAR and WFPC2 and installed the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), which included greatly upgraded CCDs and some important reusable hardware from the original WF/PC.
Astronauts brought the two old instruments back to Earth and they were soon shipped to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Technicians at Goddard and then at the Johnson Space Center examined WFPC2 for effects from prolonged exposure to space. Its radiator, the curved white section that formed part of the Hubble’s outer skin, absorbed more than 15 years’ worth of impacts by micrometeoroids and orbital space debris. Scientists measured the chemical composition of these small impactors to help shed light on the nature of space debris, a danger that affects all space missions. In order to make the analysis, NASA had to core out all the impacts, cutting holes far larger than the debris itself. That’s why there are so many large holes in the image of the radiator above.
David DeVorkin is a curator in the Space History Department of the National Air and Space Museum. He compiled this blog post from the label script for the “Repairing Hubble” display, created and edited by the Museum’s exhibit team.