Got up about 8:00 am and departed for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
. Arrived just before it opened. Found it amusing that the museum is free, but parking is $15. The museum was amazing—far better than I had anticipated. I had gone primarily to visit the Space Shuttle Discovery
. As soon as I walked in I could see the tail of Discovery in the distance. As I approached I saw an SR-71 Blackbird
in front of it. In fact, they had several impressive aircraft I had always wanted to see. An Air France Concord
—the fastest commercial airliner in the world. The F-35 Lightning
—the latest in ridiculously over-budget jet fighters. The infamous Enola Gay
—the airplane the dropped the first atomic bomb on the city of Haroshima, Japan. In addition they had the Apollo 11
module from the first moon landing, a Mercury spacecraft
, and even the model for the alien spaceship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind
. But nothing couple compare to Discovery
The orbiter Discovery is a beautiful bird. It is much larger than I had imagined and sits proudly as the center piece of it's hanger. It has been left pretty much in the state it was upon finishing it's last mission. Only the items that the toxic fuel components for the monomethylhydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide (which explode when you mix them) were removed. Discovery contains all the scorch marks of reentry, and the dirt accumulated from 39 launch/landings. Despite these marks of regular use, the orbiter gleams proudly as a tribute to the marvel of engineering it is. When you see this vehicle and actually stand next to it, and then see the Apollo module just across from it, you realize what an amazing leap was made in space travel technology. There is nothing else like the shuttle, and what is slated to replace it, namely the Orion
, is clearly nowhere near as large.
My first pass around Discovery was just spent in awe. I was approached by a man who was a tour guide, and he asked me if I had any questions. I could hardly respond due to lack of words. I grew up with shuttle launches as a kid—they were fantastic to watch. As an adult I continued to enjoy watching the launches, reading about the shuttle missions, and the details of how the orbiter worked. But actually standing there next to one, being next to the reality... it really did a number on me. I smiled the entire time.
Latter an other tour guide asked if I had questions, and by this time I had my brain back. I queried him about every details—the fuel ports, the maneuver thrusters, parachute location, space debris avoidance, heat shield tiles, and on and on. The man seemed to enjoy responding to my questions and I enjoyed asking them.
I walked the museum until my feet wanted to give out. Initially I wanted to visit a second museum that day, but by the time I left the Smithsonian it was too late. So maybe a trip an other time. But I hardly feel bad about it. I could have driven all this way just for this museum and returned home, and it would have been worth every bit of time spent.