Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Friday visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum

Friday is a half-day for me. So afterwards I walked back towards Capitol Hill, ate lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe (in company with mostly older folks like myself, some with kids) and then walked across the street to see the bedroom Linclon died in.

Unfortunately, Ford's theater is closed for 18 months for renovations but I can tell you it was a spooky feeling to stand in that room.

Afterwards I toured the Smithsonian butterfly garden and the Air & Space Museum. It's a foregone conclusion, I'm taking my boy there at the end of the month.

The place is fabulous. Old planes, rockets, cool hands-on science exhibits and even old movies showing in small theaters. Only one disappointment, the flight simulator section is not currently ready to play in.

What is really cool is that most of the stuff is original. There are Yaeger's x-1 and a real x-15 hanging from the ceiling!

I went up to the second floor, almost close enough to touch the x-15 and stood next to two elderly gentlemen with caps identifying them as former military pilots. "This is what space ships were supposed to look like," I said, "streamlined."

"Yeah, smooth and sleek. Instead we got soup cans" one replied.

OK, I know I've complained about this before. That sci-fi films do dumb things like orient the decks of big spaceships along the direction of accelleration instead of at right angles to it, and make space fighter craft look and travel like atmospheric craft - but durn it, wasn't the x-15 supposed to be what a one-man spaceship/fighter would look like?

There was however, a model of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's vision of a spaceship which was a very retro-cool, inverted teardrop shape with fins - and decks oriented right-angled to acceleration.

Tsiolokovsky was the Russian visionary who said, "Earth is the cradle of the mind - but you cannot live in a cradle forever."

Second impression from the Mercury, Gemini, Soyuz capsules and the lunar lander - they are always much smaller inside than you think. We're talking sardine tight here. It's ironic that the heirs of the pioneers who went west seeking "elbow room" were doing it in spaces that weren't big enough to move your elbows out at all.

I wonder what it's like in the Shuttle? In the videos it looks big enough to really enjoy zero-gee.

Thinking about it all brings to mind another quote, from Arthur C. Clarke, the sci-fi author who first pointed out the potential of the geo-stationary orbit, which is now sometimes called the "Clarke orbit" in his honor. It went something like:

"If the human race lasts even a tenth as long as the dinosaurs, who we condescendingly consider one of nature's failures, then it is certain that for the vast majority of the life of humanity, the word "ship" will mean "spaceship.""


  • At 10:20 AM, Blogger James said…

    After the first 25 years in Oklahoma, I have spent the past 24 years in the DC area. I don't think I have been to the Air & Space Museum since I was a visitor prior to moving here. On my list, but yet never done: the Annex near Dulles Airport. I hear it is just as wonderful. I have a new camera and it seems like a good time to go out there.
    Hope you like this weather, we ordered it just for you. It reminds me of OU-Texas weekend--nearly always hotter than the preceeding weeks.

  • At 9:53 AM, Blogger Steve Browne said…


    I grew up in Newport, Rhode Island and have never been to Block Island, Martha's Vineyard, Cape Cod or Provincetown - probably because I always knew I could. So I never got around to it.

    Likewise, after nearly 20 years in Oklahoma I had never been to the 45th Infantry Division Museum, the Oklahoma City Zoo, the Cowboy Hall of Fame or Black Mesa in the panhandle.

    However, since I brought my wife and son to America, and Oklahoma, I've made up for a lot of that. It's always better if you have someone to share it with.

  • At 10:59 AM, Blogger James said…

    I drove across the panhandle of Oklahoma a couple of times. That probably counts for the Black Mesa. The OKC Zoo was good, but I haven't been since maybe 1960. The 45th museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame actually opened after I had left in 1965.
    Newport -- I drove through Sept 28 on the way to New Bedford. The weather was sparkling and wonderful and Newport looked great. The Whaling Museum has switched goals and has become about whales, not about the intrepid men who caught them and got that essential whale oil back to the landlubbers.

  • At 12:30 PM, Blogger Galt-In-Da-Box said…

    Once space flight and expeditions are thoroughly privatized, perhaps we can look forward to this. Until that, folks like Dubya want U.S. to revisit old haunts (the moon)...Yippee!


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