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Wednesday
Jul072010

The Flyer, Spirit and Columbia

In 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright flipped a coin to decide who would attempt the first controlled, powered flight in a heavier-than-air aircraft which they themselves had designed. Orville, a 32 year old bicycle mechanic won the coin toss.

24 years after their success, Charles Lindbergh flew alone from New York to Paris in the high wing monoplane the "Spirit of St. Louis”. You can see it hanging from the ceiling in this image on the left side. 150,000 cheering Parisians greeted him when he landed at Le Bourget. He was 25 years old.

42 years later he personally witnessed the launch of the giant Apollo 11 moon rocket topped by the Command Module "Columbia" which you can see in the foreground. The Columbia carried Michael Collins, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to the Moon. And it was there on July 20, 1969 during the final moments before the landing when Neil had to take manual control of the Lunar Module "Eagle" because their targeting computer was guiding them to a landing spot covered with car size boulders. He successfully landed the Eagle with six seconds of fuel remaining. He was 39 years old.

Over 66 years these men in their twenties and thirties made world history as did everyone who supported their endeavors. Not just for the United States but for all mankind. It's just amazing to me that at one time all three historic flying machines resided in the Milestones of Flight Gallery at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and anyone could just walk in and see them all at once.

When I am lucky enough to visit and I see kids and even adults just pass through this gallery and not really give any of the exhibits here a second glance, I wonder if they have any idea how historic these artifacts are and how they changed our world so profoundly.

This image is fairly unique. You might notice there are no people in it. This is very rare since the National Air and Space is the most visited museum in the world. Manny and I had just seen a few IMAX movies in the museum. We figured that by the time the last film had concluded, the museum would be closed. We planned to linger behind for a few minutes to let the crowd exit the building so I could get this and a few other shots before the security guards kicked us out (which they politely did).

(Note: The Wright Brother's 1903 flyer is now located in its own gallery and is displayed at floor level so guests can get a better look at it.)

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