Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Washington D.C. Pics Of The Day--Day 3

Ahh, Day 3. This is kid-in-a-candy-store time for me. Ked and I spent the whole day at the National Air and Space Museum--we could easily have spent two, despite the fact this was the second time we have been to this particular museum. I walked around all day with a huge grin on my face. What's not to grin about? We saw rockets and planes, with names like Starfighter and Skyrocket, and learned about how they fly. We saw giant telescopes and planets, and a fascinating 3D movie of the Sun. We soared along with an absolutely fantastic IMAX video about a real-life Air Force pilot participating in international combat exercises at Operation Red Flag. We walked through the field of missiles and space stations that were the offspring of the U.S./Soviet race for space, soaking up the details on every plaque we could get our eyes on, and took our tour through the Skylab Orbital Workshop (or a reasonable facsimile, anyway). We also stood in line for fifteen minutes for a fifteen second glance inside the cockpit of a big-old-jet-airliner, whimpering because the protective glass kept us from pushing all the buttons.

With all of this, and much more, we still didn't have time to investigate aviation during the World Wars, or really dig into jet propulsion, or check out the flight simulators, or peruse the Jules Verne-imagined space capsule, or see again the Wright brothers plane that started it all, or. . . You get the point. We'd probably have gotten through everything quicker if we didn't have the driving compulsion to read every single thing we passed, but I wouldn't give up that compulsion for (almost) anything. There's nothing so cool to me as spending a whole day in an amazing place and leaving feeling like I've only scratched the surface. It was heaven. We are so going back someday.

So, on to the pics of the day. I'm not sure how effective these photos will be at giving a sense of what got us so excited. It's really hard to convey scale, even when you click on the photos to enlarge them (which I encourage you to do), and so much of what we enjoyed was what we learned, but here goes. As usual, we'll just walk out of our hotel and see what we see...

One of the first things of interest which we came across was this demonstration, all bedecked with a combination of American and Chinese flags, an arresting sight by its sheer improbability. We weren't able to ascertain exactly what was going on, but we suspected that the folks here were seeking aid and support for the victims of China's recent devastating earthquake. This is just a guess, however, since what we heard while we were there was a young girl's slightly off-key voice loudly singing "The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow" through a rather distorted sound system. That could be about the earthquake, right? (Oh, by the way, those little smudges in the air in front of the Washington Monument aren't smudges; they're helicopters. You can see them pretty clearly in my original high-resolution photo, and not quite so clearly if you click to the full-blog-sized photo here. Just letting you know your screen isn't dirty. The helicopters are simply being covert. It's the old helicopters-disguised-as-smudges camouflage.)

What would any day in D.C. be without its share of the abundant columnage that decorates this fair city? This fine example of columnar architecture is brought to you by the good people of Canada, who seem happy to let their embassy reflect this dominant architectural theme.

For just a minute Ked and I thought we had taken a wrong turn at Denver and headed to the City by the Bay, but a few more steps brought us to another set of columns, a fountain, and some statues, so we knew were were still in D.C. and not some Twilight Zone version of San Francisco.

We arrived at Air and Space and I promptly adopted perma-grin. The grin got wider as I looked up to see Spaceship One. Here's what Tier One Project, "the world's first privately funded manned space program," has to say about Spaceship One: "On October 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne rocketed into history, becoming the first private manned spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet twice within the span of a 14 day period, thus claiming the ten million dollar Ansari X-Prize." I want a ride. Do you suppose they'd be nice to me because I gave them a link in my highly insignificant and fluffy little blog? Nah, didn't think so.

Here's Kedley standing next to the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia. Yep, this is the one that ferried Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to the Moon and back again, from July 16-24, 1969. Doesn't look very big for spending eight or nine days in space, does it? However, I have photographic proof that previous modules were much smaller. Neil, Buzz and Michael can be glad that they weren't aboard the Mercury or Gemini crafts. Talk about your sardine cans! Apollo looks absolutely spacious by comparison, and, of course, they had the lunar module to kick around in for the flight out. However, since they let that crash back onto the surface when they departed la Luna, the ride home got pretty cozy.

Here's one for any of you ladies who ever wanted to be a stewardess. (Yes, I know the PC term is "Flight Attendant," but in the fifties, when the industry was all about glamour and every girl wanted to fly the friendly skies, the proper form of address was "Stewardess.") Back in the day, potential candidates were evaluated by height, weight, age, marital status (single), appearance, race, gender, and education. I discovered that should some time machine whisk me back to 1952, I would have no hope of being a flight attendant in that strict and bigoted era. Ignoring the fact that I'm married and over a decade too old, I'm two inches too tall!! (The acceptable window is 5'2"-5'6".) At least, I was two inches too tall before that extra decade stole a half an inch from me! Stinking gravity.

It's a shame, too, because if I had been sufficiently unmarried and otherwise adequate appearance-wise to be a stewardess, I could have worn a nifty outfit like this one. Seriously, all snark aside, this little number is pretty darn elegant air-wear. I may have to copy that jacket, even if the only thing I wear on airplanes these days are comfort clothes. Maybe I could make it out of some of that new stretchy fabric that looks all stiff and uncomfortable, but feels like you are in your pajamas, or, maybe I could wear it someplace other than on an airplane! (See, you come someplace like the Air and Space museum and you start getting all sorts of wild and crazy, futuristic ideas.)

How about we talk about something that involves women and flight, but doesn't involve such trivialities as what they're wearing while they're up there? This is the Lockheed Vega that Amelia Earhart flew in 1932 to make the first nonstop solo flight by a woman across the Atlantic, and also the first nonstop solo flight by a woman across the United States. Her 19 hours in the air during the flight across the continent makes me feel a little pathetic for whining about our six-or-so hours in the air from Portland to D.C.. Of course, I'm betting that Amelia didn't have to cope with any cute-but-crying infants either. It's a toss-up.

Here's a fun array of aircraft, from a 1936 Douglas DC-3 passenger liner, which, according to Wikipedia "revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s," to a 1928 Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor, U.S. mail plane. (Did you know that Ford built planes? I sure didn't.)

Here's the Starfighter I mentioned earlier. The handy museum plaque said this type of day fighter, first flown in 1954, is known as "the missile with a man in it." It's the first U.S. jetfighter to fly at twice the speed of sound, and this one, the seventh one ever built, flew for 19 years as a "flying test bed and chase plane," before retiring to the Smithsonian in 1975. Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan also flew these Mach 2 machines, which goes to show you what a decade can to to change international relations. This baby was built only nine years after the end of World War II, and yet Germany and Japan got U.S. permission to build and fly them. Gives me hope for the future, that does.

Here's a fun thing. This is an honest-to-goodness, real-deal Apollo lunar module. I'll just quote the whole NASM plaque verbatim so you can be as in-the-know as Kedley and I now are:

"This is an actual lunar module, one of 12 built for Project Apollo. It was meant to be used in low Earth orbit to test the techniques of separation, rendezvous, and docking with the command and service module. The second of two such test vehicles, its mission was cancelled because of the complete success of the first flight.

"The lunar module had two stages. The descent (lower) stage was equipped with a rocket motor to slow the rate of descent to the lunar surface. It contained the exploration equipment and remained on the Moon when the astronauts left. The ascent (upper) stage contained the crew compartment and a rocket motor to return the astronauts to the orbiting command module. After the crew entered the command module for the trip back to Earth, the lunar module was released and eventually crashed into the Moon."

There--don't you feel all edified and erudite now? Oh, and as an aside, did you notice how many U.S. flags there are in this shot? I count five. The Apollo Project folks certainly weren't reticent about touting Brand America. I find that quite refreshing.

Here's a whole bushel of Air and Space fun. We have missiles and rockets aplenty, Skylab, and way in the background we have a full-sized replica of the Hubble Space Telescope. This Space Race Gallery was loads of educational entertainment, even if part of it was suitable for the "interesting, but creepy" category, like the Tomahawk missile in the upper foreground.

Ked and I had a ball in the "How Things Fly" section of the museum. We learned about the four forces that act on an airplane: gravity, lift, thrust and drag, and got to play with neato little hands-on gadgets which demonstrate those forces. Many of the gadgets involved water and/or strings in the wind, so that we could see the effects which are invisible when only air is involved (unless it's really, really dirty "L.A. in the 70s" kind of air I suppose). It was cool. We learned about vortices and how wings work, and what the flaps are for, and all manner of information that is pretty useless in my world, but awfully fun to know anyway.

After we learned how planes fly we were running out of time, so we quickly zipped through the "Explore the Universe" gallery, which showed us some of the ways man has devised to look at space throughout the centuries, and saw a few other odds and ends of Air and Space goodness on our way out the door. I have tons more pictures, but this is probably enough to convince you that you need to head to Washington to get to this museum, right? Maybe we can all go together next time, because I'm definitely panting to get back. I didn't even get to tell you about the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, or what free fall is, or about Voyager, the geysers on Triton, the Mars exploration Rover, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I just don't have time to describe it all, and I'm sure you don't have time to read it either. Too many wonders, not enough time!! That's it--next time you're coming too!

Well, it's time to go back to the hotel and have some dinner. What would the walk home be, though, without another pretty columned building like the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center to admire? See you next time. Hope you enjoyed Day 3!