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Published: June 10th 2008
Kitty Hawk or The Wright Flyer
This is the first plane ever built.
Washington - The Smithsonian
It has been almost two months since we came back home from our vacaton in the States. We have been very slow at updating the blog since then. But now, finally, we have the next entry ready for you to read. We hope you will enjoy it.
One of the finest, or quite possible the
finest, museums in the World is the Smithsonian Institution
in Washington DC. Parts of he vast collections of the Smithsonian Institution are displayed in several museums in Washington DC and elsewhere. One of the days when we visited Washington DC we decided to visit one of these museums, the National Air and Space Museum
. Or rather Ake decided that we should visit that particular museum. Emma only agreed to join Ake on this visit because Ake's birthday was coming up. So Emma's participation was sort of as a birthday gift.
As you understand Emma is not very much into avionics and, if possible, she is even less interested in space travel. But even Emma agrees that the National Air and Space Museum was worth a visit. The items on display indeed well cover the history of air and space travel.
The Smithsonian Institution's
Spirit of St Louis
The plane that took Charles Lindbergh on the first non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic ever.
collections of planes is so vast that the museum in central Washington DC can not harbour everything. Therefore the National Air and Space Museum has an annex at Washington Dulles Airport. Emma was happy just seeing the main museum in Washington but Ake wanted to see both. So the day after Ake went to Dulles Airport and Emma spent the day at Washington Botanical Garden, National Museum of the American Indian and the Library of Congress.
The highlights of the National Air and Space Museum are the following: Kitty Hawk or The Wright Flyer
: The plane the Wright brothers used for the first successful powered flight. Or in other words: the first plane ever built.
One of the most famous planes ever built - the Spirit of St. Louis
. That was the plane that took Charles Lindbergh on the first non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic ever performed. This flight took place in 1927 and it made the pilot a national hero. Glamorous Glennis - the Bell X-1
that was the first plane that broke the sound barrier. The pilot Charles "Chuck" Yeager made that historical flight in 1947. Friendship 7
- the spacecraft that took the first American, astronaut John Glenn, into space in 1962. It worth mentioning
Glamorous Glennis - the Bell X-1
Piloted by Charles "Chuck" Yeager this plane was the first ever to break the sound barrier on level flight.
that John Glenn was not the first man in space. That was the Russian Yuri Gagarin.
Rumour has it that among the collections in the National Air and Space Museum is the actual space suit worn by Yuri Gagarin
when he in 1961 became the first man ever in space. However, other sources has it that this particular space memorabilia sits in a museum run by Zvezda Spacesuit Factory in the outskirts of Moscow. That might be true or not. We wouldn't know because we never saw Yuri Gagarin's space suit in the National Air and Space Museum.
But the National Air and Space Museum has several other interesting space suits in their collections. The spacesuits worn by Neil Armstrong
and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin
when they as the first humans ever walked on the Moon are among the museums collections. When we visited the museum one of them was removed for renovation and the photo we took of the remaining spacesuit didn't come out. But we did get a decent shot of the space suit worn by astronaut Eugene Cernan
when he walked the Moon in 1972. Still today he is the last person who has visited the Moon.
There were other
John Glenn's space orbitor - Friendship 7
The spacecraft that took the first American, astronaut John Glenn, into space.
interesting items salvaged from the Apollo missions (the space program that eventually put man on the Moon). The command module from the Apollo 11
mission that brought the previously mentioned Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin to the Moon and back in 1969 is a popular item on display. Trust us, it is much smaller than you think. When you look at it is hard to think that it once fit three people on a voyage that took over 8 days. It is half the size of our bathroom, and we have a small bathroom! We don't even want to know how they did their toilet visits. We guess diapers...
There are several other things from the Apollo 11 mission on display in the museum. The floating devices used for keeping the spacecraft afloat when it landed in the Pacific Ocean can be seen in the museum's annex at the airport and so can the mobile quarantine unit where the astronauts had to spend almost three weeks after returning from the Moon. You might think it was the content of the diapers they probably used for the journey that scared NASA. But it wasn't. They were afraid that there might
This spacesuit was worn by Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the Moon
be microbiological life forms on the Moon that, if they were brought back to Earth, could cause an epidemic and in a really bad case could wipe out the human race. Well think about the movie Alien
and you get the picture. Hope we didn't upset any pregnant women now. You don't really want to be reminded of the movie Alien if you have something growing inside you...
In the National Air and Space Museum they also have a piece of the moon on display. It is probably the only moon rock in the world that anyone may touch.
There are several really interesting planes on display in the airport annex of the museum. There is an old retired French Concorde
. The Concorde was a plane built as a commercial passenger airliner designed for supersonic speeds. The Concorde planes were in use for 25 years but were never any success. Their use was limited by several factors. They were expensive to fly and maintain and the routes they could fly were heavily limited by the enormous sonic boom produced when the plane passed the sound barrier.
One of all the unique planes parked in the National Air
Command module Apollo 11
The command module from the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon.
and Space Museum is the plane that dropped the atomic bomb over Hiroshima - Enola Gay
National Air and Space Museum even has a genuine space shuttle. That is pretty rare! This space shuttle is known under the name Space Shuttle Enterprise
. Maybe it is wrong to call it a space shuttle because Enterprise has never been in space. It was built for various tests on structure and manoeuvrability for instance.
When I, Ake that is, grew up in the 80-ies I read in the Guinness Book of World Records about the fastest plane ever built - SR-71 Blackbird
. It was a "reconnaissance aircraft" which is just a fancy way of saying that it was a spy plane. As such there was a lot of secrecy around the capacities of the Blackbird. Still today some of the flying data concerning the Blackbird are classified. It is known that the Blackbird is the fastest jet plane ever built. It's maximum speed was more than 3500 km/h. That is faster than a bullet! The Blackbird also holds the altitude record for jet planes at over 25000 meters. More than twice as high as passenger planes fly.
I met a guy once who told
A piece of the Moon
Probably the only Moon rock in any museum in the World that visitors are allowed to touch.
me that he had done his military service in a radar station in Central Europe back in the 80-ies. From this station they could monitor airspace all across Europe. He said that sometimes a dot appeared on the screen when the radar made its sweep, a dot that was gone when the radar made its next sweep. Then they knew they had caught the Blackbird on the screen. The Blackbird was so fast that they rarely got more than one "blip" on the monitor. If they were lucky enough to catch it right on the outer rim of the sector they were watching they could get a second "blip" on the other end of the sector. But never more than two "blips", the Blackbird was too fast for that.
You might say that the Blackbird was legendary when I was young. Of course it was notorious for being the fastest plane ever built and holding the altitude record for jet planes. But attributing to the legendary is also the fact that the Blackbird looks so cool. Today all the SR-71 Blackbird are taken out of service. You guessed right - they have one in the National Air and Space
The Concorde was a passenger plane built for supersonic speeds.
Museum. I have seen it up close. It is cool, I promise! The plane looks evil. The plane look vicious. The plane looks deadly! ...and I swear I sensed the plane heave a breath... The plane is alive...
As we mentioned above the Smithsonian Institution also have several other museums. To give them all a serious "go" would take more than a week and that is time we didn't have on this journey. We never had any plans to see more than National Air and Space Museum. But during our visit the National Museum of American History
was closed for renovation. One of the keystones in the idea for the Smithsonian Institution is that the collections should be available to the public as much as possible. Therefore they had cleared out a few rooms of aviation history to give space for some of the "goodies" from National Museum of American History.
Here follows a quick presentation of the items we found to be the most interesting:
A hat that once belonged to President Abraham Lincoln
A pair of boxing gloves that once belonged to Muhammad Ali
. Kermit the Frog
. We absolutely love Kermit the Frog and, if you think about it, deep inside
The fastest jet plane ever built.
so do you. Thomas Edison's
light bulb. Actually the one on display in the museum is first light bulb ever shown to public. Alexander Graham Bell's
telephone, one of the first telephones ever made.
It is one of the earliest computers ever constructed, Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, aka ENIAC
. It filled an entire room and when it comes to calculation capacity it is totally dwarfed by the simplest pocket calculators.
A tiny sample of Plutonium-239
. Plutonium-239 is one of only two isotopes that can be used to make an atomic bomb. Well in theory there is a third one that can be used, Uranium-233, but it is not practical. The sample of Plutonium-239 on display originates from the Manhattan Project
during the Second World War. The Manhattan Project was the name for the project to create the first atomic bomb.
The first X-ray tube, the very vacuum tube Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen
used when he discovered the X-rays. A discovery so important that he was later awarded the Nobel Prize in physics.
An even more important medical discovery, in fact one of the most important medical discoveries ever, was Alexander Fleming's
discovery of penicillin. He discovered it by chance when studying
The plane used for dropping the atomic bomb over Hiroshima.
bacterial growth on a Petri dish. Mold had accidentally got onto the dish and where the mold had spread Fleming noted that the bacteria had died. He identified what kind of mold it was and eventually that mold could be used to create a powerful antibiotic, penicillin. Just like Röntgen, Fleming was later awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery.
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