Viewport: Leave the World Behind
- By J.R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, March 2010
"Viewport," by National Air and Space Museum director J.R. Dailey, opens each issue of Air & Space magazine. The column highlights the Museum's ongoing efforts to preserve the history of aviation and spaceflight. This article appeared in the February / March 2010 issue of Air & Space.
People who visit the National Air and Space Museum often say that they want to “experience” flight or “go” into space. Our new exhibition, “Moving Beyond Earth,” responds to their wishes. Within the constraints of gravity, we transport people with a gallery that all but puts them in orbit.
How do we do that? Engaging interactives, iconic space artifacts, and the ambience of the gallery itself work together to create the look and feel of space. The focus is human spaceflight in the era of the space shuttle and International Space Station and beyond.
In the dimly lit gallery, the view from a window of the shuttle or station stretches from wall to wall, and the high-definition Earth rolls past at about the pace it would if seen from orbit. Another wall dissolves into a high-definition visualization of the station, slowly turning and giving you the sensation that you are an astronaut flying around it with a rocket backpack.
Our tech-savvy young visitors are drawn to computers and information in motion. This exhibition seeks to engage them through several content-rich interactives. SpaceFlight Academy gives visitors a chance to test their spaceflight knowledge in a competitive quiz game, as if they are astronauts in training for a mission. In Space for You? visitors match their own interests with some of the jobs that make spaceflight happen. Another interactive, Flight Director, puts visitors on duty in Mission Control, working with a team of flight controllers to solve a problem in orbit. The problem, an errant satellite, is drawn from an actual shuttle mission. The decision-making required by this game mimics the problem-solving that is necessary in spaceflight.
An eerie blue platform that seems to float in midair is actually our newest technology—a horizontal LCD screen, home of the space station Design It! activity. Here, visitors working around the touchtable screen balance cost and desired capabilities to equip new modules for the station. This activity reflects the kinds of decisions that NASA makes all the time.
Among the iconic space artifacts in the gallery is COSTAR, the “contact lenses” that corrected the vision of the Hubble Space Telescope and that just returned from space last year. More flown-in-space items will shortly become available as the shuttle era comes to an end.
Unique to the Museum, a presentation stage—with cameras, lighting, and electronics for direct broadcasts, Webcasts, and live talks and demonstrations—will enable the Museum and NASA, the sponsor of this exhibition, to bring spaceflight to people far beyond Washington, D.C.
The gallery today is just the first stage of what will be, by 2011, a more complete experience of human spaceflight, as we continue to add artifacts and historical interpretation. On your next visit to the National Air and Space Museum, be sure to have your own spaceflight experience in “Moving Beyond Earth.”