In awe at D.C.'s Air and Space Museum

Road Trip 2010: No visit to the nation's capital would be complete for any self-respecting geek without a chance to see some of the most important air and spacecraft in history.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--If you walk around the Air & Space Museum here, as I did Sunday, you can't help be struck by how much of the most important events and aircraft in aviation history are from decades ago.

This is the museum, after all, where you can find the plane the Wright Brothers used in humanity's first-ever powered flight, in Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903. And the capsule from John Glenn's first American manned orbit of the Earth. And the Apollo 11 capsule. And so on.

Then again, right above you when you come in through the main entryway of this amazing museum is something that reminds you that, in fact, aerospace innovation continues to take place to this very day.

There, hanging next to the Spirit of St. Louis and the Bell X-1 --the planes that, respectively, were the first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic and to break the sound barrier--is the SpaceShipOne, Burt Rutan's spacecraft that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for being the first private craft to fly twice into space within a two-week span.

I couldn't help thinking, as I looked up at that troika that it was an incredible honor for SpaceShipOne to be hanging there, next to those two giants.

Of course, there are other aircraft and spacecraft in the museum that aren't decades old, but none of them are hanging there, right above your head in the most visible part of the museum. There is no doubt at all that the curators of the museum were making a very visible point when they put SpaceShipOne there: that private spaceflight is one of the most vital efforts our species can be working on.

Since I've been spending several days in Washington, D.C. on Road Trip 2010, I got the chance to spend enough time at the museum to see just about everything--and on a Sunday in summer, no less. That's no small feat. For anyone considering such a visit, I recommend waiting until late on a Sunday, when the crowds are mainly gone and the museum is quiet--and air-conditioned.

I'm going to let the photo gallery I've produced on the museum speak for itself (see above), but I wanted to share a couple of videos that I thought were very striking.

The first (see below) is a representation of air traffic over the mainland United States on September 11, 2001. It shows the effect on the skies of the terrorist attacks of that horrible day.

The second video shows traffic over the course of an average day in the United States (see below) and is both mesmerizing and instructive to watch. I hope you enjoy them.

For the next few weeks, Geek Gestalt will be on Road Trip 2010. After driving more than 18,000 miles in the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest and the Southeast over the last four years, I'll be looking for the best in technology, science, military, nature, aviation and more throughout the American northeast. If you have a suggestion for someplace to visit, drop me a line. In the meantime, you can follow my progress on Twitter @GreeterDan and @RoadTrip and find the project on Facebook. And you can also test your knowledge of the U.S. and try to win a prize in the Road Trip Picture of the Day challenge.

 

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