Air & Space

I’ve got space fever.

All this news of a lunar base, of going to Mars, of reusable rockets, of Space Force has me dreaming.

So at last I went to the Air & Space Museum near Dulles airport, where you can see a Concorde, circumambulate an SR-71 Blackbird, peer up at an F-35 even, and stand in the presence of the Discovery shuttle, among other things.

You can see a Boeing 707 which is also interesting, but you can’t go through it, which would be more. When the place is not crawling with kids and the Coronavirus is not menacing the world, you might want to try the simulators; they look interesting.

Back to space: the shuttle is the most interesting thing. It is not as streamlined a shape from up close. The bottom is covered in endless individual tiles, the sides are covered in what appears to be cloth (heat blankets, they designate them). The whole thing is wonkier than any model or picture ever led me to expect. It is a strange, hybrid craft, isn’t it? I enjoyed that upon examination it was not as expected. Designed for dealing with the atmosphere, and yet its destination was to get a little, careful way beyond.

I don’t think I’ve ever been that close to these kinds of machines before. The fighter jets are pretty large, for just carrying one or two people. What is in those things? What do they keep inside all that enclosed space? The wingspan of the F-35 was unbelievably narrow, resting as it was between birds of greater reach. The gaping mouth of the old jets whose intake was at the nose was almost audible. And the shuttle I found larger and in its unexpectedness more imposing. It was as if having numerous times been poised to launch itself into an endless trajectory away into the depths and never done so were . . . nothing! Does one view it with awe or with embarrassment because it is a symbol of a loss of nerve? I don’t read up about these things, you understand. I just dream. I’m not after understanding, but after stimulation.

It is also, if you think of it, a strange gallery. You see gliders, choppers, battered German WWII fighters, rocket engines, cruise missiles, borscht in a tube, a sheathed emergency space-machete (for hacking your way out of a compromised rocket?), and in the case of the F-35 an $80 million object. It is all laid out splendidly, labelled, and briefly explained. A most curious place. A lot of trouble has been gone to. When is the last time you looked at the nose of the P-51 C Excalibur III hanging from the ceiling at eye level? There you can.

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