5 out of this world things to see at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
With the discovery of seven exoplanets potentially home to some little green men, head to the National Air and Space Museum to see exactly how Earthlings explore space. The museum displays all sorts of rockets, space craft and satellites — but is also home to aircraft stretching from the dawn of aviation to the drone age.
Hello, is there anybody out there? Well if there is, it could be one of the Voyager spacecraft that finds them. Launched into space in 1977, the two Voyager probes primary missions were to do some recon on the outer planets in our solar system like Neptune and Uranus. Their secondary missions were to leave our solar system and sail into interstellar space to see what else they could find. And just in case the probes stumble into some other life form, on board is a 12 inch gold platted copper LP containing some of the grooviest cultural happenings from Earth during disco era. I wonder what aliens would think of bellbottoms and butterfly collars? Also on the record is hola, konnichiwa or hello in 55 different languages. Still transmitting data back to Earth to this day, Voyager 1 has "left the building" and gone into the great unknown.
Apollo Lunar Module
The Eagle has landed in Washington, D.C.! Well, not exactly, but resting in the main hall of the museum is Lunar Module 2, which was built for the Apollo moon missions but never used. In 1969 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Jr. took "one small step for man, and one giant leap for mankind", becoming the first humans to promenade on the moon. But that one small step ended up being more of a jump. The guys actually had to drop over three feet to the ground because of some "minor" miscalculations during landing. You know how they say getting there is half the fun? Not for these dudes. Pooping in zero gravity hadn't been perfected yet so one of them popped pills during the 8 day trip to keep his pipes clogged.
The Spirit of St. Louis
Dangling from the ceiling is the first plane to make the treacherous flight from New York to Paris non-stop — The Spirit of St. Louis. Piloting the piston powered plane was none other than Charles Lindberg. Called Lucky Lindy by the press, he'd made a career as a stunt pilot during the gonzo "barnstorming" era of the 1920s. Before getting the guts to fly solo over the cold North Atlantic Ocean he had already shown crazy courage by voluntarily crawling out of cockpits to go wing-walking, parachuting for fun out of perfectly functioning aircraft and even switching planes in mid-air! The flight that catapulted him to international stardom took 33.5 hours to complete, during which time Lindberg became so sleep deprived he started to hallucinate. Maybe that's why he thought it was a bright idea to descend to wave level so sea spray could splash him in the face to help keep him awake.
Hubble Space Telescope
Launched into Earth's orbit in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope was the very first telescope placed into space so to get views of the cosmos unimpaired by Earth's atmosphere. But the original images beamed back from Hubble looked like crap. Houston, we have a problem! Turns out the reflecting mirror had a fatal flaw which would have to be corrected if Hubble didn't want to end up in the dustbin of history alongside the Titanic and Hindenburg. But a risky mission involving a spacewalk successfully repaired the defective mirror. And the new images were heavenly indeed. In fact, the Hubble could now see so deep into space it was able to date the age of the universe to around 13.7 billion years old.
Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis
If you've ever seen the movie "The Right Stuff" you'll recognize this tiny plane painted like a tangerine. In the jaw dropping opening scene, test pilot extraordinaire Chuck Yeager is released out of the bombay doors of a B-29 in his Bell X-1. As it free falls to Earth, Yeager fires up the rocket and zooms to 700 miles per hour while the plane vibrates so violently you think all the rivets are going to pop out. But they don't and in real life Yeager becomes the first humanoid to smash through the sound barrier. Nick-named as a tribute to his true love and wife Glennis, Yeager flies the fastest plane in the sky dozens more times and reaches the incredible speed of 947 miles per hour.
John Hopewell is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He is a frequent contributor to the Washington Post and personal tour guide when family and friends visit.