Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, offers the unique sight of a complete Mercury spacecraft. Many of these spacecraft are available for viewing all over the United States, but this one is special because it did not fly.
During the course of a Mercury flight, several parts of the spacecraft are jettisoned and not recovered, including the retro package. This piece of equipment is visible here in my photos as the striped metal object strapped to the bottom of the heat shield. This small cluster of solid rocket motors was responsible for the safe return of the astronaut from space, making just enough thrust to change the shape of the orbit so that it would meet the atmosphere and use aerobraking for a ballistic reentry.
If this package had not fired properly, the astronaut would be faced with the dire situation of being stuck in orbit. Fortunately, this never happened in real life, but it was captured in the fanciful novel “Marooned” by Martin Cardin, in which a NASA astronaut was stranded on orbit after his retro rockets failed. When the book was released in 1964, it was so influential that it actually changed procedures for Mercury’s follow on program Project Gemini, adding more redundancy to the spacecraft’s reentry flight profile.
Alan Shepard, the first American in space and later Apollo 14 moonwalker, didn’t fail to notice that there was a leftover spacecraft at the end of the Mercury program. He lobbied for a second Mercury flight in this ship, speaking personally to both NASA Administrator James Webb and President John Kennedy about this flight. He told them his idea of an “open ended” mission in which they would keep him in orbit indefinitely until there was a malfunction or consumables began to run out. Webb stated (and Kennedy agreed) that it was more important to shelve the Mercury spacecraft in order to jump start the more capable Gemini Program. Thus, we now have this whole Mercury on display for future generations to appreciate.
Hey Arch, I’ve been following your blog throughout my undergraduate degree in Env. Design and it’s been a great resource! I really appreciate what you do for the community and the people asking you questions. I was wondering if you might have insight about projects that could help inform my current studio project. I decided to propose a version of the Center for Truth and Reconciliation at the UofM.
It’s a mix of Museum/Research/Archives/Classrooms/Great Hall/Gathering space.
Would you happen to know of any precedent that might help inform my form, circulation, etc?
Have a good weekend!
Storage Rooms Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Most major museums have a combination of most of these uses. The most obvious ones in my opinion would be the :
Smithsonian Institution (all the images in the post)
Tate (check out the recently completed extension by Herzog & de Meuron)
Last spring, a French farmer was plowing his field when a hole in the earth opened beneath his tractor. A hundred years ago, war was raging in this very spot. The original French front line was only 50 feet away. The farmer called my friends at Soissonnais 14/18, France’s oldest and largest association of volunteers dedicated to protecting France’s underground heritage from World War I. Two friends volunteered to lower themselves down the hole and found a site that’s been in total darkness, frozen-in-time for the last century. Not long afterwards, I was in France filming this documentary for the Smithsonian Channel and was invited by my friends to descend into the hole and photograph this site. Americans Underground: Secret City of WWI will premiere tomorrow (March 13th) on The Smithsonian Channel at 8:00 pm and 11:00 pm ET & PT. On April 6th, an exhibition of my WWI photographs will open at The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. The exhibition runs for nearly 19 months. #history #hiddenwwi #wwi #hidden
Today, you can find some 30 remaining Blackbirds and Oxcarts scattered in museums and US Air Force bases throughout the country, for example, at the USAF Museum, in Dayton, Ohio, and the National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, D.C.
Beneath beautiful farmlands in northeastern France lie dozens of vast stone quarries that were transformed into modern underground cities adjacent to the trenches of WWI. Their existence remains all but unknown to the outside world. This video answers part of the question about how I found the Hidden World of WWI.
The television documentary, Americans Underground: Secret City of WWI, will be rebroadcast tomorrow, March 17th on The Smithsonian Channel (@Smithsonian_Channel) at 10:00 pm ET & PT as well as 1:00 am ET & PT on March 18th.
On April 6th, an exhibition of my WWI photographs will open at The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC. The exhibition runs for nearly 19 months.