Looks like a duck, sounds like a duck…

18 06 2013

I was adding records to my bibliographic database this afternoon when I stumbled across this interesting tidbit in the Proceedings of the Delhi Archaeological Society:

7th March, 1850

A letter from Captain Dewar, of 1st Cavalry, was read, reporting the discovery of a large stone in the Jhansi district, which, when struck, emitted a sound equal to that of the finest gong.

The Secretary was requested to write to Captain Dewar, to ascertain from that gentleman, what he thought the probable expense of the removal of this stone to Delhi might be.

The finest gong? Sounds like a meteorite to me, but which one?

As far as I can tell, there were only 7 meteorite falls (observed falls) on the South Asian subcontinent before 1850. Four of those were L chondrite, two were H type, one was a diogenite. Those two H types could have had enough iron mixed with stone to make a bell-like sound if struck, but the mass of those falls have been located and removed to London (Akbarpur, fall 18 April 1838, found in Uttar Pradesh; Charwallas, 12 June 1834, found in Haryana). So, if Dewar was hitting a meteorite with his hammer, it must have been from an unobserved (or at least unrecorded) fall.

In a list of 106 meteorites known to have fallen in India (both observed/unobserved falls) before 1926, only four of those were proper irons (GarhiYasin, Kodaikanal, Nedagolla, Samelia). Based on date of observed fall/discovery location, none of those could be the Jhansi meteorite. None of the remaining 102 meteorites on the list make good candidates, either.

Unfortunately, I could find no record of the stone being shipped to Delhi. The Proceedings seem to come to an end with the issue I have in my office (January 1953); I’ve lost the meteorite’s trail. It’s indeed a puzzle, the solution to which is probably buried deep in the Museum of Natural History with every other meteorite collected by the British during the colonial era.

Visiting Space Shuttle Discovery (Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum)

23 10 2012

First Sighting at James S. McDonnell Space Hangar. Photo credit: JR

I left for Los Angeles and my encounter with Endeavour just two days after returning from a visit to the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The highlight of the Smithsonian visit was the Space Shuttle Discovery, of course, but after spending three days with Endeavour, I was a little hesitant to go back and look at my photos from my day at the museum. I was worried that the experience, even though it was so recent, wouldn’t hold up to the weekend following Endeavour. Of course, it doesn’t in many ways, but in others, seeing Discovery was also a great experience.

Landing Gear, Space Shuttle Discovery. Photo credit: JR

Endeavour’s landing gear was retracted during its move to the California Science Center, of course. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but when I started sorting through my Smithsonian photos, I realized how different the undersides of the two spacecrafts appeared, one staged for landing, the other staged for transport. The experience of scale was quite different, too. On the streets of L.A., Endeavour seemed like a behemoth, lumbering down the center lane. At Udvar-Hazy, Discovery seems quite small, although not as small as the Mercury capsule perched off to the side.

James S. McDonnell Space Hangar. Photo credit: JR

Otherwise, the real lesson I learned by comparing the two sets of photos: it’s vastly easier to figure out exposure and white balance when I’m outdoors in persistent lighting/weather conditions. Museum lighting continues to be a challenge for me. Most of my problems could be solved with a tripod, but white balance is always difficult in a creatively lit museum. It’s a good thing I’m not being paid for this.

Endeavour Day Two (Photos)

17 10 2012

Intersection of Crenshaw Dr., Crenshaw Blvd., 82nd. Photo credit: JR

I added Endeavour: Day Two photos to my flickr site last night (to go with Morning One, Afternoon One and Videos). It took me longer than I thought it would because I kept stopping to (re) watch the L.A. Times timelapse video of my weekend. Anyway, the Day Two collection is as much about the spectators as it is about the shuttle (don’t worry, there are plenty of Endeavour photos and all the engine porn you’d ever want). After being jostled around all day Friday—particularly at Randy’s Donuts—I was feeling a bit grumpy about the crowds. Saturday, I tried to use them to my advantage instead of fighting all the people. So, fewer clear sight lines, but more awesome moments of stranger happiness.

p.s. If you follow my twitter feed, you know I left the sidewalk unexpectedly at Crenshaw and King on Saturday night. A few days later, my right knee is definitely feeling the impact, but otherwise, all is good.

Endeavour Day One (Photos/Videos)

16 10 2012

See you later! Photo credit: JR

So far, my answers to the question “How was your weekend?” have been fairly inarticulate. “Amazing!!” is the quick answer, but even that extra exclamation point doesn’t convey the depth of my emotions. The people (friendly, excited), the sounds (beep-beep-beep-beep, endless-drone-of-LAPD-helicopter), the movement (slow and then slower), the spacecraft (OMFG)…it was overwhelming at times. In addition to sorting through all the meanings of the move for the history and future of the U.S. space program, I had to grapple with the idea of escorting the space shuttle through parts of the city known to me only as sites of social strife and political/racial oppression. My personal history with South Central L.A. meant that I couldn’t just chat blithely with my neighbor about the installation of the space shuttle at the California Science Center. Every conversation bumped up against a memory, many of them bad. For instance, on my second day, I walked through the intersection where I saw my first dead body in 1991—how weird is that? My mind was spinning simultaneously in fast-forward and reverse all weekend long and now I really need a nap. I’m going to need to rest before I can really process what this weekend meant for me, what it meant for the nation, what it meant for future space exploration. You know. The easy topics.

I’ve started the photo/video upload on my flickr site. If you want to see motion vignettes of the move, check out my Endeavour Videos collection. They’re short, from 20 to 90 seconds long, but some of them are pretty impressive (in terms of seeing Endeavour, not in terms of cellphone cinematography).

I’ve also uploaded a few photos from Day One: Morning and Day One: Afternoon. Day One began at 12:30 a.m. October 12, 2012 and ended at 11:00 p.m. October 12, 2012 (yes, almost 24 hours on 2-1/2 hours of sleep!); the photos start at the point at which the public was allowed to view the shuttle—the corner of Sepulveda Westway and Manchester—and finish with the rush across the 405 freeway at the end of the day.

JR! Photo credit: some random stranger with my iPhone

More later, I promise.

Endeavour On the Move

12 10 2012

Endeavour’s passing. Photo credit: JR

Here’s just a bit to let you know how well it’s all going out here in L.A. That’s a close-up of Endeavour’s flank as she (it?) moves out of temporary holding in the parking lot of Bed, Bath & Beyond at Manchester near LAX. That move occupied my afternoon. My early morning hours… Well, my early morning hours were spent getting as close to Endeavour as possible (or as allowed by the LAPD). Here’s what I saw when I looked up at about 4:30 a.m.

More soon—must get some sleep before the next stage of the move!

Intrepid Museum

3 10 2012

Douglas A4 Skyhawk, Intrepid Museum, New York, NY. Photo credit: JR

I failed to upload my photos from our trip to the Intrepid Museum in September. Imagine forgetting about visiting the Space Shuttle Enterprise! I was happy to see the spacecraft again and overall, I liked the new exhibit more than I liked its predecessor at the Smithsonian. Well, on the positive side, Enterprise was better lit at the Smithsonian, making it easier to see all the details and fine lines. On the negative side, visitors were kept well back from the orbiter. At the Intrepid, you can walk underneath it, practically kick its tires. So, while I’m not too happy with the darkness of the temporary pavilion (reminded me of the National Museum of the Air Force), I was pleased they let me get so close.

National Museum of the Air Force

12 09 2012

Boeing P26A, National Museum of the Air Force, Dayton, Ohio. Photo credit: JR

I don’t know if I mentioned it, but I just moved from Indiana to New Jersey for work. On the way east, we stopped at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. I have lots to say about it and no time to say it (did I mention I just started a new job?), but I finally managed to post a few passable photos out of the collection for your enjoyment. I thought the Museum of Flight was a challenge to photograph, but the Dayton museum made taking photos in Seattle look like a cake walk. I promise promise I will come back and talk about curatorial narratives, the arrival of the Space Shuttle trainer, and much more as soon as I get these article revisions out the door.

Shuttle Trainer

28 07 2012

Flight Deck, Full Fuselage Trainer, Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington. Photo credit: JR

The above photo explains the timing of our visit to the Museum of Flight in Seattle: we wanted to see the package NASA dropped at Boeing Field a few weeks ago. While I’m sure the Board and employees of the Museum of Flight were disappointed by NASA’s decision to send the retired Shuttle fleet elsewhere, they must have been intrigued by the consolation prize, the Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT). A full-scale mock up of a Space Shuttle, the FFT served as a training ground for every Shuttle crew, allowing the astronauts to practice emergency egress and EVA procedures. The FFT has been arriving piece by piece (the aft section of the payload bay arrived earlier this week) and instead of waiting for the entire “spacecraft” to show up, the curators have been putting the pieces on display as they arrive.

Introducing the Full Fuselage Trainer. Photo credit: JR

I’m not sure how I would feel about it as a curator. Letting an exhibit go up before everything was in place would probably make me anxious. And the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery, the new home of the FFT, has an incomplete, cavernous feel to it at the moment as it sits more than half empty. On the other hand, anticipation is building and has been since the first shipment arrived via the Super Guppy. It’s a bold and quite possibly brilliant curatorial decision, inviting the public to witness the building process. Each Super Guppy touchdown is an opportunity for another press release; each component installed is a reason for visitors to return to the gallery. By the exhibit is complete, the community will be completely invested in the project and hopefully the financially longevity of the museum.

At present, though, the gallery is mostly empty, with a few smaller (intriguing!) exhibits holding down its edges. As in the Great Gallery, the wall of glazing at the front of the building creates a difficult lighting situation for photography and I spent a lot of time trying to find a setting that compensate for the glare without erasing the details of the FFT.

The Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. Photo credit: JR

As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, the nose of the FFT consists massive wooden shell painted with matte black. The auto focus on my camera refused to cooperate for close up photos and even when I pulled back, the (lack of ) contrast between the black wood and the black walls of the gallery forced me rely on manual focus.

I’ve uploaded a few more photos to my flickr site. I’m looking forward to going back and documenting the completed trainer one day soon.

Museum of Flight

25 07 2012

Pioneer Pullman of the Air, Boeing 80A-1, Museum of Flight, Seattle, WA. Photo credit: JR

As you could probably tell from my Monterey Bay photo, most of my vacation had nothing to do with work or this website. Kayaking, hiking, running, watching Perry Mason…it was nice to get away from my job for awhile. We did make one stop worth mentioning here, though, when we joined a friend for a day at the Seattle Museum of Flight. Wow, has that place grown since the Red Barn first showed up on the edge of Boeing Field in 1983. The Great Gallery went up while I was a student at University of Washington and the museum has since added the Library and Archives Building (2002) and the J. Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing and Airpark (2004) to its campus. We gave it a good effort, but left one wing (no pun intended) almost completely unexplored at the end of the day.

Many of the artifacts at the museum have some connection with the Pacific Northwest. I’m sure the fact that my father grew up in Alaska and never missed a chance to warn me about flying over glaciers had something to do with my interest in the Bush Pilots of Alaska exhibit (or maybe not, it was a damn good display). I’m also sure I drove my partner crazy with my ramblings on Seattle/PNW aviation history as we moved from aircraft to spacecraft. She probably didn’t need to be reminded that Richard (Dick) F. Gordon and I grew up in the same town or that I met Pete Conrad while studying at UW, but she was a good sport about it.

Catherine’s first EVA. Photo credit: JR

We gave most of our time and attention to the exhibits focused on space exploration, particularly the Space: Exploring the New Frontier section. Rendezvous in Space was also sweet and gave me the excuse to start talking about Pete Conrad and University of Washington again. I tossed out a couple of tweets while I was wandering around, but @rindsay beat me to the best one: Science is for gals in housecoats, too.

I know I’m supposed to be a crack architectural photographer, but I found the Great Gallery to be a tremendously challenging space. Everything, everywhere, is backlit and a fill flash doesn’t help much. So, while I managed to get a few good photos of the aircraft and exhibits, I didn’t manage many of the building itself.

Iron Annie, Beech C-45H Expeditor, Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington. Image Credit: JR

The Charles Simonyi Space Gallery, new home to the Space Shuttle Trainer (FFT), also threw up a few challenges to my camera, but I’ll get to those in my next post.

Super Guppy Delivers

1 07 2012

NASA’s Super Guppy loaded with crew cabin of shuttle trainer. Image credit: NASA

If you’ve been following the dispersal of the Space Shuttles to various museums around the U.S., you may have been struck by the variety of transportation methods used by NASA to relocate the retired fleet. Discovery traveled to its new home at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, on the back of NASA 905 SCA. Explorer traveled to Houston by barge. Enterprise combined those two methods to arrive in New York. Later this year, Endeavour will piggy back on NASA’s jet to LAX, after which point it will travel by flatbed up the Santa Monica Freeway to the California Science Center. The journey, arrival, and unloading of the Shuttles have made for some riveting television for space enthusiasts.

This weekend, when the crew cabin of the Space Shuttle Trainer (aka Full Fuselage Trainer, or FFT) arrived at Boeing Field for installation in Seattle’s Museum of Flight, we saw yet another method for moving equipment. It is safe to say that Seattlites are accustomed to seeing a lot of air traffic and they can be somewhat jaded when it comes to flying objects (listen to the complaints about the Blue Angels during Seafair if you don’t believe me). But it’s not often the Super Guppy buzzes the Space Needle, much less lands and parks in a museum parking lot. I’d say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the Super Guppy should touch down at Boeing Field twice more to deliver two sections of the payload bay. If you’d like to witness one of those landings, keep an eye on the Museum of Flight’s webpage for scheduled arrival dates. In the meantime, enjoy some sweet photos of yesterday’s landing courtesy of the Seattle Times.

Observatories and Instruments