At the National Air and Space Museum

Yes, it really is rocket science.Since I hadn’t had a vacation in quite a while, I turned Labor Day weekend into an extra-long weekend by taking off the preceding Friday and the following Tuesday, giving me a 5-day holiday. On Friday, August 30th, I decided to do something I hadn’t done in years — I visited the museums in down-town Washington DC.

More specifically, I visited the National Air and Space Museum (which has spaceships) and the Museum of Natural History (which has dinosaurs). These are two museums that should be on every SF fan’s hit list. I’ll cover the National Air and Space Museum in this post, and the Museum of Natural History in a separate post.

For me, the National Air and Space Museum is easily covered in a few hours. I’ve been to the museum numerous times over the years and, frankly, it hasn’t changed much in all that time. All the real action nowadays happens at Udvar Hazy edition of the museum out by Dulles Airport in northern Virginia.

It’s still fun seeing all of the various rockets, space capsules and moon rocks. But I also find it a little sad, because so much of the museum is devoted to things that we can’t do anymore. We don’t have the capability to send a man to the moon. It’s like a shrine to past glories that are beyond our means, despite our more advanced technological level.

Here’s one picture that I thought was pretty cool. It’s a mural of two people standing next to a Model T Ford and looking up at a dramatic night-time sky. It took me a while to get a good capture of the mural (plus I had to do some Photoshop magic to get it to come out the way that I wanted).

The Sky and the Model T Ford

The museum also had a star map, which is something that I’m fascinated with. As an SF writer, I’m more interested in where stars are in relationship to each other than I am in learning what section of the sky to point a telescope at in order to see a particular star.

Star MapThe star map posed some interesting photography problems, since it was placed in a dark area for impact. But it was also composed of layers of glass, which were sufficiently reflective to preclude the use of a flash. So, another interesting picture augmented by Photoshop.

The cloud of dots in the center of the box are stars. Star maps, especially 3D ones, are generally sufficient to make SF writers salivate. Or maybe that’s just me, I dunno.

Just by coincidence, before I left the museum, I decided to check out the main store within the museum. Now, frankly, most of the stuff in the store is really tourist-oriented (although they did have an excellent selection of space-oriented documentary DVD’s), so I didn’t expect to buy anything (and, indeed, I did not). I was just curious about the kinds of things that they were selling.

They had lots of stuff for children, including toys, posters, videos, clothing, “space candy,” etc. The DVD selection was excellent. And then I discovered that there was a second level.

The USS EnterpriseAlways the intrepid explorer, I descended to that second, almost hidden level. I found a few interesting things down there.

I found books. Apparently, books are relegated to the basement because they’re not the type of high-ticket items that tourists buy.

And I found the Starship Enterprise.

The original model of the ship from the classic 1960’s series.

Relegated to the basement level of the museum store where almost nobody would find it.

And that made me angry. Whatever it’s flaws, that show was important to me and millions of other viewers. Even today, Star Trek is thrilling millions of viewers around the world with the vision of a future in which space exploration is a worthwhile goal and where heroes work together to overcome obstacles.

In a shrine to past glories, I couldn’t help but think that it seemed fitting that the only forward-thinking display, one that glorified mankind’s future in space rather than its past, was banished to the nether regions of the museum where almost nobody would find it.

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