I recently had the chance to go to Washington D.C. for work and stayed through the weekend to play tourist. The highlight of the trip was Saturday, when I spent most of the day in the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center.
I just so happened to be there for the event they put on for the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope. They had two panels of astronauts talking about Hubble servicing missions and answering questions, as well as various other talks throughout the day. They were also giving out bookmarks and prints of pictures taken by Hubble. I listened to some of the astronaut presentations but was mostly distracted by the abundance of hardware in the museum. Unfortunately they had one end of the space hangar blocked off with the stage so I didn’t get to go see the Spacelab exhibit.
Usually when I visit somewhere that is significant enough to me that I want a souvenir I stop by the gift shop on my way out so I don’t have to carry it longer than necessary. At this museum I spent an hour or two in the space hanger, then realized how much time had already passed and went to the gift shop early because I was worried that otherwise I might miss the chance at the gift shop due to wandering the museum till close. It turned out I had over half an hour to spare by the time I left, but that was still nearly the entire day spent looking at their artifacts and exhibits.
I was most excited to see a space shuttle orbiter up close. It didn’t disappoint and I ended up with over 30 pictures of it, so I’ll try something new and post them in a gallery so this post isn’t entirely consumed by space shuttle pictures.
They had guided tours going constantly. I didn’t follow one around, but I did occasionally listen in at the stations that interested me. Of particular note was the space shuttle tour stop, where the guide pointed out that the scoring on the heat tiles gives an indication of the angle of attack of the shuttle on re-entry. If you notice in the picture of it that I posted: it’s as much up as back, indicating that the shuttle wasn’t doing much gliding (at least during the hottest phase of entry). The guide commented that it came down like a “homesick rock.”
Also in the space hangar, they had an unflown Mercury capsule (Freedom 7-II) complete with the retro-rockets that were to be fired for re-entry:
Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar
The Udvar-Hazy center is where all artifacts in the air and space museum go for restoration. Since the restoration area is just additional hangar space attached to the back of the museum there’s an observation deck that museum visitors can view the planes in restoration from.
Apparently Air France agreed to give the Smithsonian a Concorde after it was retired all the way back in 1989. They delivered on that agreement in 2003.