From Kites to the Space Shuttle

A new photo-filled book is a diary of life at the National Air and Space Museum.

The U.S. Navy’s Curtiss NC-4 became the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, in May 1919. In 1926, Paul Garber persuaded the Navy to preserve the aircraft. The Aircraft Building was too small to house the massive flying boat, so the wings went to Alexandria, Virginia, for storage; the engines and propellers went to Norfolk, while the fuselage remained at the Smithsonian. In 1969, on the 50th anniversary of the flight, the aircraft was restored and placed on temporary display on the National Mall. Today, the NC-4 is on indefinite loan to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. (NASM (SI NEG. #SI-91-14704~PM))
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With a stroke of his pen, President Harry S. Truman in 1946 created the National Air Museum. But the Smithsonian’s collection of aviation-related objects dates back far earlier, to 1876, when the Institution received a donation of 42 hand-painted kites from the Chinese Imperial Commission. Today, hundreds of aircraft, spacecraft, and rockets, plus thousands of related artifacts, have joined those antique kites in what is now the world’s largest aerospace collection, the National Air and Space Museum.

A new book, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum: An Autobiography (edited by Michael J. Neufeld and Alex M. Spencer, National Geographic, 2010), offers an in-depth look at the history of the Museum, from Samuel Langley’s early model-airplane experiments in the halls of the Smithsonian Castle to the acquisition of the Spirit of St. Louis to the journey of the Mars rovers and beyond.

Each year, eight million people visit the Museum to see the aircraft and spacecraft that made history; over the next few pages, take a look into the newly published history of how the Museum came to be.

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