Washington DC: The National Air and Space Museum

Of all the Smithsonians, we spent the most time at the National Air and Space Museum. After all, this is the most popular of all Smithsonian museums. These type of museums appeals to people of all ages as almost everyone can relate to planes and space crafts. Strange as it may sound, humans had always wondered about flight and wished to soar like birds from the ages.

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If there is only one aviation museum you ever want to visit, it will be this one in Washington DC. The National Air and Space Museum is the largest in the world with a very comprehensive collection of aircraft and spacecraft. And most of these aircraft and spacecraft are not replicas … most of them are originals. That makes this museum so much more special.

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Case in point … some of you can easily recognize the three historical aircraft here. All three of them are the originals … they are NOT replicas.

The Spirit of St Louis was the first aircraft that flew non-stop across the Atlantic from New York to Paris. It is built to win a competition that awards a huge sum of money for the first man to do the transatlantic without stopping to refuel. Can you see what is odd about the design of this plane? It has no front window. The only way the pilot (Charles Lindberg) could see out is on the side window. Do you know why it has not front window? Guess and let me know.

The futuristic shaped Spaceship One is the first private funded spacecraft that carries human. Until this was built, all spacecrafts are funded by governments. It managed to fly up to the height of 100 km which is officially recognized as the edge of space and earth’s atmosphere.

The orangey bullet shaped plane is the Bell X-1 … the first aircraft ever to achieve the speed of sound and flown by the famous Chuck Yaeger. That, my dear, is the Mach-1 sonic plane.

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We thoroughly enjoy also the exhibition of the 50 years of Space Age. We like it from the perspective of the space race and of how in the beginning the Soviet Union trounced the US in the race to dominate space. The Soviets launched the first satelite (the Sputnik) which was the event that triggered the US to engage in the race to space. The Sputnik does very little … it gave a ping every now and then. That little ping sent a shiver down the spine of the US Government in the middle of the cold war.

What came next was a complete shock to the US when the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin as the first man to space … beating the US by just a mere three days. The Soviets followed up very shortly by sending a 2-man expedition and also the first woman in space. And then they also sent the first spacecraft to reach the moon. At that time, the US was left behind.

The US needed to respond. President John F Kennedy initiated a program in the earlier part of 1960s to send man to moon and back by the end of the decade. That program was called the Apollo Program.

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The Americans finally succeeded to send man to the moon just five months before the end of the the 1960s, thus meeting the objective as set by President Kennedy. The Soviets had several setback in the race to the moon where there were a few accidents in launching their new generation of rockets. That effectively ended the space race between the US and the Soviet Union.

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This is one contraption I cannot quite figure out. This is what is called the “Human Waste Disposal Unit (Female Configuration)” on the MIR Space Station. The Male Configuration version, I can figure that out but I can’t imagine how this is used. I asked Suanne but she refused to waste time figuring this out with me — she walked away. LOL!

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Oh … I love the missile displays. From the V-1 in World World II to the ICBMs of the Cold War. It was awesome seeing the Pershings, Minuteman, Poseidon, Polaris, up close.

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One more picture I want to share with you. The above is the Cray-1 — perhaps the most famous supercomputer of all time. I started working as a computer programmer back in those days where we have COBOL, Wang VS and PDP-11s. Those days I was a pretty hard core programmer. Someday I even worked through the night at the office and did not go home. He he he … I slept for a few hours on the office couch and worked like a horse. Back then, I read a lot about this mystical Cray supercomputer … and here it is! Oh wow! [OK, that’s “Oh-Wow” from my nerdy side which I know you normal non-computer people would not understand!]

This is some info that I know (primarily for the consumption of geeks only). Until I saw this machine, I had no idea how much wires there are in there. Do you know why the Cray-1 is designed as a “C” shape? Well, the story is that this shape optimizes the wire distances so that they can squeeze extra processing juice out of it. As great as it was then, the PC I used to type this blog entry has over 100x processing power than the Cray-1.

I did not take many pictures here at the National Air and Space Museum mainly because I was so engrossed with the exhibits there. I know museums are not everyone’s cup of tea but trust me … spend time browsing the exhibits and you’ll come out amazed what man had achieved in just over 100 years of flight. There’s a lot to learn from this museum.

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  1. Joseph

    I like museums too and specially the air museums. Wow look at those wires in Cray 1. I wonder how they would fix it if one of the wires get shorted.

    Nice pictures of planes. Too bad there’s only a few. đŸ™‚

    BTW, I worked w/ VS-80 up until the end of 1999. Our Cobol programs cannot handle the Y2K change.

  2. Jessica

    Looking at the female “waste disposal” unit, I think you’d sit on it and angle yourself so you pee in the yellow thing?

  3. Mistrmind

    Spirit of St. Louis has no front window because it was removed to make room for the fuel tank, which was sitting in front of the cockpit.

    However, he could see forward, because he had a periscope installed in the cockpit.

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