Saturday, October 22, 2011


The National air and Space Museum on the Washington Mall is a huge building, so big that a Skylab Space Station occupies just one corner. Even this structure can not contain the whole collection, so the larger aircraft are displayed at the Stephen F. Udvar Hazy center near Dulles Field. In the last post we saw the test vehicle Enterprise in a place of honour for Space Shuttles. The B-29 Enola Gay gives some idea of the scale of this building.

Even in this bigger space, the Concorde SST is a tight fit. From a high catwalk, it is difficult to get the whole plane in one shot. In its heyday Concorde regularly carried passengers at cruise speed of Mach 2. It could not travel faster, due to the effects of heat on an aluminum airframe. The cancelled Boeing SST would have been even bigger, 90 meters long. Planned to be built of lighter heat-resistant titanium, America's SST would have cruised at Mach 3. What would airports look like if these giants had survived?

Sustained flight at Mach 3 had been proven practical in the 1960's by this aircraft. Fitting for a plane that travelled to the edge of Space, the SR-71 Blackbird has a choice location in front of the entrance to the Space Hall.

Enterprise is not the only historic object in the Space Hall. The Astronaut Quarantine Facility housed the Apollo 11 crew on their return to an aircraft carrier. Prior to their mission, no fresh samples had ever been returned from the Moon. Scientists were not completely sure that the Moon was lifeless, and there was some fear of an ANDROMEDA STRAIN contagion. After the first Apollo missions and their samples had returned, the science community finally concluded that there were no Moon bogs.

In another corner is the miniature Mothership from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. Like our Space Station, it appears to be assembled from cylindrical modules. Something is universal about the circular shape. We can only imagine what sort of propulsion systems would drive a craft like this to the stars. Hopefully the Smithsonian will someday display a real starship.

My photo of Enterprise headlines the new Carnival of Space!

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