The right stuff

WASHINGTON--If you're a geek and you're in the nation's capital, one of the must-sees is definitely the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Located just west of the U.S. Capitol, the museum is an absolute treasure trove of aviation and space artifacts.

CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman came through this week as part of Road Trip 2010 and made sure to spend some time looking at some of the most famous airplanes in history.

As a fan of the terrific film "The Right Stuff," Terdiman couldn't resist the allure of this plane, the Bell X-1, in which Chuck Yeager became the first pilot ever to surpass the sound barrier. The plane has a 28-foot wingspan, is 30 feet, 11 inches long, and a total of 10 feet, 10 inches tall. It weighs 12,250 pounds and was made by Bell Aircraft company in 1946.

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Friendship 7

Also featured in "The Right Stuff," was this capsule, known as "Friendship 7," in which John Glenn, on February 20, 1962, became the first American to orbit the Earth. The capsule was part of the Mercury program, and Glenn's space flight took four hours and 55 minutes.

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Apollo 11

This is Columbia, the Apollo 11 command module. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins flew it to the moon, where Armstrong and Aldrin, on July 16, 1969, became the first two humans to walk on the lunar surface.

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Front view of Apollo 11

A view of the Apollo 11 capsule from the front, and above, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, D.C.

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Spirit of St. Louis

This is the famous Spirit of St. Louis, a Ryan NYP, which Charles Lindbergh piloted on May 21, 1927, in the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight in history. Lindbergh flew the plane 3,610 miles from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, N.Y. to Paris. The flight took him 33 hours and 30 minutes.

With the flight completed, Lindbergh collected the $25,000 prize offered by hotel baron Raymond Orteig to be the first person to fly directly between New York and Paris.

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Gemini IV

On June 3, 1964, Edward White became the first American astronaut to perform a spacewalk, otherwise known as an extra-vehicular activity (EVA), going outside this Gemini IV capsule for 20 minutes. Russian cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov had made the world's first spacewalk three months before.

Gemini IV, which was launched on top of a Titan II rocket, is 11 feet high, has a maximum diameter of 7 feet 6 inches, and weighs 7,000 pounds. It was made by McDonnell Aircraft for NASA.

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SpaceShip One

The SpaceShipOne became the first private craft to reach space twice, winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004.

Built by Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites and financed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the ship's feat ushered in the private space age.

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Air & Space Museum entryway

Soaring above the main entryway to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Bell X-1, SpaceShipOne, and the Spirit of St. Louis hang side-by-side-by-side in an obvious tribute to three of the most important flights in history. It is especially worth noting SpaceShipOne's inclusion in the museum, as it is certainly among the very newest aircraft on display and is squarely from contemporary times.

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First flight

This is the original Wright Flyer, the world's first manned, powered, aircraft. The Wright brothers flew their inaugural flight from Kitty Hawk, N.C., on December 17, 1903.

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Starfighter

This Lockheed F-104 Starfighter became the first U.S. fighter to hit Mach 2--or twice the speed of sound. The plane was flown by NASA for 19 years as a "flying test bed," according to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, as well as a chase plane. It was the seventh Starfighter built.

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Skyrocket

On November 20, 1953, Scott Crossfield flew this Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket faster than Mach 2--or twice the speed of sound--becoming the first human ever to go that fast. The plane was air-launched from a U.S. Navy Boeing P2B-1S, or B-29), and reached Mach 2.005 at an altitude of 62,000 feet, in a shallow dive, according to the museum.

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Apollo-Soyuz

In 1972, the United States and the Soviet Union reached an agreement to take part in a joint venture in space. That agreement was fulfilled in 1975, when an American spacecraft launched from Florida and a Soviet craft launched in Kazakhstan, and the two came together in space.

According to the museum, "The Apollo-Soyuz test project marked a brief thaw in the Cold War and the first time that the two rivals cooperated in a manned space mission."

Over the course of the project, the crews from the two spacecraft visited each others' vessels, ate together and worked on joint projects.

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Around the world

This is the Breitlinger Orbiter 3, used by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones beginning on March 1, 1999, as the first balloon to fly around the world nonstop. The two took off from the Swiss village of Chateau d'Oex and on March 21, 1999, they landed in Egypt, having traveled 28,431 miles.

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Side view of Breitling Orbiter

A side view of the Breitling Orbiter 3.

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J-UCAS

This is the Boeing X-45A Joint Unmanned Combat Air System (J-UCAS). It was first flown in 2002 and was the first modern unmanned aerial vehicle to be designed for combat strike missions, according to the museum. The project was first managed by DARPA, but in 2003, the X-45 program was consolidated by the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy under the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System Office.

According to the museum, this X-45 carried out 40 sorties, and became the first autonomous flight of a high-performance, combat UAV. The program lasted until 2005.

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Pioneer UAV

This is the Pioneer UAV RQ-2A Pioneer, an aerial drone that gave field commanders a new tool to play with: real-time reconnaissance, surveillance, battle damage information, and target acquisition.

The drones went into service in the late 1980s, and this one was used in the 1991 Gulf War.

This UAV is notable for the fact that during a low pass near Kuwait City, several Iraqi soldiers made it clear as it was going overhead that they intended to surrender, marking the first time soldiers had surrendered to a UAV.

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A bit of 747

A partial section of a 747 and its engine, as seen at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

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Side-by-side missiles

These two missiles, the Soviet SS-20 (left) and American Pershing-II, are two of more than 2,600 nuclear missiles banned under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987.

The Pershing-II was deployed by the Americans in West Germany starting in 1983 and was aimed at western Soviet targets. It could carry a single thermonuclear warhead with a maximum explosive force of 50 kilotons. Because of the INF, all Pershing-II's were eliminated. This was a training version of the missile.

The SS-20 was one of the Soviet Union's mobile intermediate-range ballistic missiles and carried up to three thermonuclear warheads with a total maximum explosive force of 250 kilotons. It was deployed at 48 bases in the Soviet Union, and could strike Western Europe and Asia. The INF required that the SS-20, like the Pershing-II, be eliminated. This is also a training version.

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Lunar lander

This is one of 12 actual lunar modules for the Apollo program. It was designed to be tested in low Earth orbit so scientists could see various techniques for separation, rendezvous, and dock with the command and service module. This vehicle's mission was canceled because the first vehicle--this was the second--was so successful, this one wasn't needed any longer.

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Hubble

A replica of the Hubble Space Telescope, as seen at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, D.C.

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