Science Explainer, National Air and Space Museum

In the National Air and Space Museum’s How Things Fly gallery last September, Explainer Rae Stewart helps a young visitor understand the forces acting on an aircraft in flight. (Eric Long / NASM)
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Title: Rae Stewart is an Explainer at the National Air and Space Museum.

The job: Explainers—high school and college students—help the Museum’s eight million annual visitors better understand artifacts and exhibits through hands-on demonstrations. “We tell the stories behind the inventions, innovations, and scientific discoveries within these walls,” Stewart said at the Museum’s 40th anniversary celebration this past July.

The path: In January 2015, Stewart, a physics major at American University in Washington, D.C., attended a federal work study job fair, expecting to get a position shelving books at the university library. She landed a job with the Smithsonian Institution instead.

Typical day: Assigned to different stations within each of the Museum’s galleries, Explainers clarify ideas in aviation, space exploration, astronomy, and planetary geology. They change stations every 30 minutes. “It took me a year to learn them all,” says Stewart.

Common question: What’s that gold shiny stuff on the lunar module? Heat-reflecting plastic film. “People are often quite surprised at some of the things that astronauts have gone up to space in because they appear to be held together by duct tape and aluminum foil, but all of these design choices were very strategic, and more importantly they worked!”

How it has affected her career plans: “Prior to working here, I had no interest in going to space or being involved with the International Space Station. But working at the Museum has opened up my mind to that possibility; I would definitely go to the ISS and especially the moon. Cruising around in the lunar rover sounds like the coolest thing ever.”

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