Mr. Rabbit Goes To Washington (Tech Edition)
By Dwip September 13, 2010, 3:00 am Comments (6) RSS Feed for this post

So as some of you are aware, Sarah got an internship working for The Atlantic in Washington, DC. Being a dutiful boyfriend as I am, I’ve been down there to visit her twice now, once in July, and once over this past Labor Day weekend.

Now, most of these expeditions aren’t particularly newsworthy, consisting as they did of sitting around and eating food and watching Highlander, but some of them are. And I have pictures. Oh, yes I have pictures. Beware the loading times after the jump.

But first, a brief note. You know, getting to DC from New Haven is actually pretty easy and humane if you know what you’re doing. The following itenerary is going to sound atrocious to you, but in reality, it’s actually pretty easy:

– Get on D bus in New Haven, ride to the Green. Transfer over to the Union Station shuttle.
– Hop a Metro-North train to Grand Central Station in New York.
– Run down to the subway, and leap on an S train to Times Square, then a 1-2-3 train to Penn Station.
– Walk outside and get on a Megabus to Washington.

Total travel time is approximately all damn day, but total transport cost is on order of $50 round trip, which isn’t bad at all. I heartily wish I had known about this earlier.

But anyway, on with the picture show.

Now, you might expect as how my first order of touristing business in DC would be to run up and down the Mall, my historianish heart causing me to leap about in abject glee. In fact this turned out to not be the case, since I had an entire Friday to myself while Sarah was at work. So I budgeted the better part of the day to indulge my tech geek side and visit the National Air and Space Museum.

This was a wise move, because even the portion of it that’s at the actual museum (there’s a whole other annex I didn’t get to) is ridiculously full of stuff. Being Americans as we are, there exists a national desire to build gigantic buildings and fill them with the artifacts of our technical ingenuity as temples to our brilliance.

It looks something like this:

That’s the first exhibit hall you see as you come in. What’s in that room?

The Spirit of St. Louis (Charles Lindbergh’s plane)
– The Apollo 11 command module (capsule on the left)
– The Friendship 7 Mercury capsule used by John Glenn to orbit the Earth (capsule on the right)
SpaceShipOne, the first private spacecraft (white, above Apollo 11 module)
– The Bell X-1 in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier (orange)
– Replicas of Sputnik 1 and Explorer 1, the first Soviet and US satellites, not to mention Mariner 2, which probed Venus
– A Bell XP-59 Airacomet, the first US jet fighter
– A North American X-15 rocket powered aircraft
– Two of Robert Goddard’s rockets

And a few other things you can’t really see, like an actual moon rock. I, like many others, have now touched the Moon. Also a pair of actual disarmed nuclear missiles, an SS-20 and a Pershing II. There are actual freaking rockets in this building holy crap, and we’ll revisit that point in a second.

This is the sort of thing, if you know anything at all about the history of manned flight, where you kind of have to pause for a moment and go “Oh.” Even now I’m not really sure what to say about that room. That bit about temples to our brilliance I said a bit ago? Yeah, that’s right here. And there’s a lot more where that came from.

Moving over a room:

That’s a V-2, with a WAC Corporal next to it. The best of German WWII rocketry and the first post-WWII US rocket, respectively. In the background you can see a module from the Skylab space station.

One of the things I quite enjoyed about the Museum is that, despite being in the capitol of the United States of America, it had a fairly international flavor to it. Lots of German, Soviet, and whoever else’s artifacts, despite the preponderance of American technology, and the exhibits did a reasonable job of giving those nations their due. It could have been a huge propaganda fest, but mostly wasn’t, and I like that.

This is an Apollo-Soyuz mockup, which is also hiding some things I’m not going to show you, such as a test version of the Hubble Space Telescope, a Corona spy satellite, a TKS module, and the Soyuz TM-10 spacecraft signed by the crew.

Which is to say I can’t show you all 100+ pictures I took.

In 1960s Soviet Russia, it is the 1960s. In SPAAAAAAAAACE.

So, funny story here. I’m all looking at this suit, which was used during Apollo 15, and I’m thinking “Man that thing is grubby! It’s got dust all over it! Don’t they clean these things?”

And then I thought about it a second, and realized that it was grubby because that was dust FROM THE MOON. “Oh,” says I, “Dust. From the Moon. Right. Yes. Of course. The Moon.”

Which is to say, have you ever seen that Onion article about the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon? Very strong current of that running through this particular day. Very strong.

I’m just going to stop telling you about all the things I’m not showing you, because this would go on forever if I didn’t.

To move back in time and around the museum a bit, there’s an exhibit in there made up to look like an air show from circa 1911 or thereabouts. Slightly pre-World War I. Various amusing things in there:

Such as this reproduction of La Minerve, a French balloon design from 1803. Note, if you will, the man with the cannon on the front. And definitely when I build MY Last Exileish airship, I too will endeavor to have a giant rooster on the top.

Also, Glenn Curtiss, whose company you may have heard of in relation to one or two airplanes used in World War II, like the P-40 Warhawk and the SBC Helldiver and more than a couple others. But, in the years prior to World War I, he made motorcycles. And that’s a 1908 Curtiss motorcycle.

Getting back to that whole Temple of Ingenuity thing, “Should we hang some airliners from the ceiling?” “Yeah, that would be cool!”

Ladies and gentlemen, there are airliners hanging from that ceiling. It appears that if you use enough steel cables, you can hang just about anything. Nevertheless, I feel compelled at this point to repeat that there are airliners hanging from that ceiling. WTF. For those of you keeping score at home, the big one is a DC-3, with a Boeing 247 below it, a Pitcairn Mailwing in the back, and you can see the back part of a Ford Tri-Motor at top.

Down on the floor is a partial fuselage from a 1950s DC-7 that you can walk into. Those are regular passenger seats. There’s a table in between those and two more of the same. The sign reads “Look around…how is the passenger experience different today?” Well. I can think of one or two things.

We now bring you to the World War II section of our excursion. I hope you like planes. But then, if you made it this far, you either do, you’re related to me, or your name is Sarah. So.

Me-262s? Yes, yes there are Me-262s in this museum. That part of me that thinks that Me-262s are awesome? That part of me was very very loud right in here. It’s a little fuzzy, but I was probably randomly saying things like “Dude!” and “Awesome!” in this room. I’m profound like that.

The entire wall opposite the Me-262 (and an XP-80 Shooting Star and an FH Phantom, for the record) was occupied by that mural there, which shows roughly the first 20 odd years of the jet age. There are a lot of walls in this museum, and there are a lot of murals covering them. I endorse this decision.

(no, the wall doesn’t look like that – my panorama stitching sucks)

Continuing on our “I think German aircraft are so totally rad” tour, and yes I grew up in the early 1990s why do you ask, that’s a Bf-109. Again with the ceiling hanging thing, this time in artful swooping motion. Somewhere, a 10 year-old boy is trying to get a model kit to do this exact same thing above his bed.

Top is an Italian C.202 Folgore, and bottom is a P-51 Mustang, and if you needed me to tell you that, what the hell is wrong with you? Nose caption on the Mustang is “Willit Run?” Which is to say “Heh.”

Not shown: totally epic mural of B-17s, actual Zero, actual Spitfire.

Opposite all of the fighters and such, and next to a B-26 cockpit, is this wall full of models. As near as I can tell, if it flew during World War II, it is on that wall at least once.

Not shown: Epic horde of Boy Scouts in town for the national Jamboree. All of whom, I assure you, thought World War II was as awesome growing up as I did. Person there in the front, pointing out that I haven’t yet grown up? You are correct.

There is an exhibit of nothing but random airplanes flown by the Wright Brothers. I usually think this when I see pictures, but believe you me, there is a strong sense of “Wait, guys FLEW in this. As in, above the ground. In the AIR. What.” in this room.

Now, leaving aside the room full of ridiculous supercomputers from the 1950s and 1970s, you may remember that thing I was saying about how there are actual freaking rockets etc.

Yes, that is a pit in the floor with a whole bunch of rockets of the sort that went to space. Of note:

– A V-1 flying bomb at top.
– An Aerobee rocket (small one bottom left)
– A Vanguard rocket (left), used to launch satellites in the 50s.
– A Jupiter-C rocket (the big white one)
– A Viking rocket (blue and yellow in back)
– A Minuteman III ICBM (with the windows)
– A Scout-D rocket, used to launch satellites.

WAC Corporal and V-2 in front to the right.

I could go on, and on, and on, but I think you get the point. To sum up, I spent 5 odd hours in there, walked my feet almost completely off, and still missed about 5 exhibits and a couple movie presentations. Lots there.

And since this post is now of epic length, join us next time for some, you know, actual monuments.

Photoblogging, Trips Comments (6) RSS Feed for this post
Comments on Mr. Rabbit Goes To Washington (Tech Edition)
avatar Comment by Suzanne #1
September 13, 2010 at 1:10 pm

It’s amazing how one acclimates to travel in an area with public transportation… and how quickly one can de-acclimate once returning to a place that doesn’t have it.

I have clear memories of doing similar bus-train hopping in Wales/England and having no problem with it, but now planning a bus trip with no switches seems like an enormous undertaking.

avatar Comment by Suzanne #2
September 13, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Also: Air and Space Museum for the win. I went there once as a kid and I can’t wait to go back (though of course I’m a teensy more inclined to the Natural History museum for obvious reasons).

avatar Comment by Conner #3
September 13, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Yes, the Natural History Museum is pretty cool too, but I told Dwip he’d like the Air & Space Museum, it’s always been my favorite. (Those are some great pictures too, btw.)

avatar Comment by Regina #4
September 13, 2010 at 7:58 pm

“Abject” glee? I think you meant utter. Abject means crushed down, defeated, surrendered in spirit.

The disembodied head of Lenin agrees with me.

Anyway, yes, it seems you going there while I was at work was a wise move, as my reaction is more like “Yeah, those are some airplanes hanging from the ceiling. Mkay.” This way of going to the museum is easier for me. :)

avatar Comment by Dwip #5
September 13, 2010 at 8:11 pm

I wrote it at 3am what do you want.

I am very sorry, dear, that you are unable to appreciate nice things. Fortunately, I appreciate them for you, as everyone can see.

Will probably hit up natural history at some point, although I suspect that, like the British Museum, I could spend the rest of my life in the various Smithsonian museums and never come out for air. Not a bad way to go, but.

The bus/train thing… you know, it’s strange. When I’m just going about my day, the idea of doing all of that seems very remote and impossibly hard, but once I get myself in the mode it’s all very easy. Funny how that works.

Too, not quite as simple as just getting in my car and driving to, you know, Seattle or whatever, but since in this case it would mean driving through NYC and Philly and I guess Baltimore, I think I’ll pass. Besides, do you have any idea how much reading I get done? It’s awesome.

avatar Comment by Conner #6
September 14, 2010 at 3:06 am

The disembodied head of Lenin agrees with me.

*raises an eyebrow at you*

I could spend the rest of my life in the various Smithsonian museums and never come out for air.

I expect that’s entirely true, but then I also expect that you’re more the type who’d enjoy them that much than I am. I relish time spent in several of the Smithsonian’s museums in the past, but there are also several of them I’d be quite content to never step foot inside again. :D

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