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Sunday, December 9, 2012

I'm a space cowboy, bet you weren't ready for that

As the year is winding down and the departure date for Shanghai 上海 nears, the stress amps have been turned up to 11. I've got a progress test scheduled for this upcoming Monday afternoon, while trying to sort my way through a forest of red tape, courtesy of the United States Department of State, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, Mao Zedong 毛泽东 and Chiang Kai-shek 蔣中正, not to mention my own personal ignorance. All this and more, thanks to an increased homework load (I was reduced to having to complete translation exercises on the Metro this Saturday morning) and the onset of a not unexpected seasonal cold. I'm optimistic enough to believe that my wife and daughter will be able to join me in China in early February, but it's going to come right down to the wire. Perhaps it was a bit premature of me to have quit smoking ten years ago.

Homework on the subway aside, one still needs to set what has to be done aside for some quality family time. In our case, that meant going to one of Washington, D.C.'s most popular (and deservedly so) attractions, the National Air and Space Museum. In this day and age, it's hard to find anyone praising the role of government, but I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Smithsonian Institution for its services not only to this nation, but to the world at large. The number and range of museums it operates in the D.C. area is stunning, and all of them are free of charge to visit (a socialist conspiracy?). You have heard of the National Air and Space Museum, and if you haven't been there already, you no doubt will should you find yourself one day in this nation's capital. So without further ado, what follows is a brief photographic record our visit this Saturday after Pearl Harbor Day...

Amber stands in front of the command module of Apollo 11

Some of the displays, like this one on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, brought back memories of events from my childhood.

A mock-up of the Hubble Space Telescope

A V-2 and a V-1 rocket in the foreground, and a section of Skylab in the back. I could've had a V-8.

The miracle of flash photography - this display was in near-total darkness, part of the "Explore the Universe" exhibit.

A U-2 pilot's survival kit, including shark repellant

A model of the Lunar Roving Vehicle from Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the Moon. Astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt certainly seemed to enjoy themselves while they were up there:

The Spirit of St. Louis...当然

Amber was very excited to see this flying machine. The bright-red Lockheed Vega was the airplane that Amelia Earhart piloted solo across the Atlantic in 1932. Earhart is something of a hero to Amber, who read about her in a book she had checked out from her school library. Hopefully she will be the first in a long line of positive female role models for my daughter as she makes her way through life.

Why, yes, this is the actual Wright Flyer that was flown on the beach at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on that momentous day back in 1903. Thank you for asking.

Planes, planes and more planes

I remember seeing a photo of this poster in a book on the First World War that my dad had on this bookshelf.

My wife checks out this display on the Flying Tigers. To my surprise, I was able to make out a lot of the traditional characters in the examples from the "Pointee Talkee" booklet. "Please help conceal me from the enemy and the puppet troops."

As I was wondering if this was an actual Mitsubishi Zero  零式艦上戦闘機 (aka ゼロ戦) fighter plane, a small Japanese tour group happened by, and I overheard one of visitors comment that is was the 本物. Good enough for me.

A Royal Air Force Spitfire, the plane that kept Britain alive during the darkest days of the Second World War.

Amber and I were both fascinated by La Minerve:

"The interest in balloons which had swept across Europe in the 18th century had many expressions. La Minerve was designed by the French aeronaut Etienne Robertson in 1803. Completely fanciful, Robertson's self-contained aerial community represents the hopes which many Europeans held for the bright future of air travel."

And now we're left with United Airlines.

If you harbor any doubts that the National Air and Space Museum might not be very interesting for the little ones, banish those thoughts now!

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