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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Air and space, the final frontiers

Last week was a rough one in Russian. I wasn't in the best of moods all week long, and I wasn't feeling very well, no doubt fueled by anxiety over my first progress evaluation, scheduled for Thursday afternoon. When it came time for the one-on-one evaluation, I went to the wrong room. By the time I realized the mistake and had tracked down the correct location, I had already missed nearly twenty minutes of the scheduled fifty-minute test. Looking at my phone and seeing that the next shuttle home was going to leave in just a few minutes, and facing the prospect of having to bide my time for another three-quarters of an hour until the next one was due to depart, I did the most sensible thing I could think of: like Elvis, I left the building. And with that, I suddenly felt a whole lot better, and the next day's classes went pretty well. As for the progress evaluation, these things can always be rescheduled, and mine has been for next week. Ба́бушка (гада́ла, да) на́двое сказа́ла ( — то ли до́ждик, то ли снег, то ли бу́дет, то ли нет) - or something along those lines.

Apropos for a space cadet, the family today visited the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, close to Dulles Airport. Home to eighty planes and sixty spacecraft housed in two huge airplane hangars, the center serves as an additional exhibit space for the more well-known National Air and Space Museum, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (which we visited three years ago). Like other Smithsonian museums, admission to this one is free, though it does cost $15 for parking. Its location in the northern Virginia suburbs, and the difficulty in reaching it via public transportation, means the museum isn't as crowded as the main facility in Washington:


The interior is huge:


One of the highlights is an SR-71 Blackbird, a legendary spy plane that could reach heights of 80,000 feet (24,384 meters) while traveling at speeds up to Mach 3.3:



Everywhere I go, it seems, I'm being dogged by the Reds:


The Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima 広島. No mention is made of the morality of the decision that resulted in the deaths of around 75,000 people, which is probably the way most American visitors would want it, at least judging by the reaction of some people (all of whom were Americans) when I shared my opinions on the subject on Facebook following my trip to Hiroshima in April 2012. One well-known blogger in Taiwan, who often criticizes the mainstream media for failing to think outside the conventional wisdom when it comes to China-Taiwan relations, and who is a strident critic of American foreign policy (and rightly so), surprised (disappointed) me by falling in line with the conventional American narrative on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 長崎: that the Japanese were "fanatics" who would've fought to the bitter end, therefore it was necessary to vaporize or irradiate up to 250,000 (by some estimates) men, women and children (not to mention opening up one hell of a Pandora's Box in the process). Which just goes to show that when the topic is Japan, some people know quite a lot about Taiwan:



They say the skies are getting crowded. My daughter wondered whether the wires were strong enough:


Another highlight is a Concorde, the Anglo-French supersonic jet that was in service from 1976 to 2003:


Pride of place in the space wing of the museum goes to the Space Shuttle Discovery. In 27 years of service it launched and landed 39 times, and the effects of all those fiery re-entries into Earth's atmosphere can be seen on its exterior:




The IMAX movie we saw this afternoon. Speaking of Harrison Ford, Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be shown in 3D at the museum's IMAX theater starting from the 17th:


After the movie, we ventured up to the observation tower, which provides a 360-degree view of Dulles Airport and the surrounding area. Planes coming in for landings are almost at eye-level:





Back on the ground, Amber tries out some of the controls on a real Cessna. She also took part in a paper airplane-throwing contest (finishing third), and the two of us took a ride on a Space Shuttle simulator:


Not all of the displays are related to huge flying machines:


Visitors can peer down onto the Restoration Hangar. Behind my daughter is a seaplane which searched for Japanese submarines after the attack on Pearl Harbor: 


A Lufthansa jet comes in for a landing as we walk back to our parked car. If you enjoyed the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, you will certainly like the Udvar-Hazy Center. We did. The only fault I could find with the museum is that the only source of food there is a McDonald's. Otherwise, if you're interested in airplanes and spacecraft, you owe yourself a visit:
















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