General Science

Michael’s Log Part 1: Space Camp – The Pilgrimage

posted: 10/12/17
by: Science Channel

I was born in 1952 the son of a maid and a butler, and grew up on the East Coast in the 1960s. In the leading edge of Baby Boomers, I came of age at a time when, as a nation, there was nothing we couldn't do. America had won World War II. Our scientists and engineers developed the technology that would fuel our future. We broke the sound barrier and, as a proxy for war with the Soviet Union, set our eyes on the moon. In the space of a decade, we landed men on the moon and laid the foundation for permanent habitation in space. I ate it up! Science, technology, aircraft, and spaceflight: These were my passions. So, what does a black kid do in the 1960s who's more interested in science and technology than football, basketball, or baseball? Well, you go to MIT to learn aeronautics and astronautics so you can design aircraft and spacecraft. While at MIT, I found that I was not an engineer at heart, but my love of science and love of people led me in another direction: I became a doctor. I married a lovely nurse and with her raised four children. While the demands of day-to-day forced my passions to take a back seat, they were not forgotten. So after retiring, I've planned a trip to indulge them: The Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center, Space Camp, and the Johnson Space Center.

The Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia is the annex to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on in Washington, D.C. In addition to a collection of artifacts spanning our nation's history in flight, the Center houses the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar (the Smithsonian's site for preservation and restoration of historically significant aircraft), archives, the Airbus IMAX Theater, classrooms, conference halls, and the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, which overlooks Washington Dulles International Airport and the surrounding area. A real-time feed from Dulles ATC allows you to hear the inbound and outbound traffic being directed. A few years ago, I had a chance for a cursory tour of the museum. Now I have the time for a more leisurely viewing. Here are some highlights from my recent trip:

On entry, I was greeted with a view of the Boeing Aviation Hangar and a glimpse of the Space Shuttle Discovery in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar just beyond.

Directly below is a Lockheed SR-71 with hangar space displaying aircraft from all epochs of aviation history.

I spent five hours at the museum and felt I just scratched the surface. While the craft on display range from pre-World War I to the current Joint Strike Fighter, I find the aircraft that most speak to me are those with which I have a personal connection...

I learned to fly in a Cessna 150.

And bought dual instruction time in a Robinson R-22.

The T-33 was our nation's first jet training aircraft and first jet fighter. It was also one of the first aircraft I modeled as a kid.

If you're my age, the F-105 Thunderchief, F-4 Phantom, and Bell Helicopter's Huey and Cobra were often in the Vietnam War footage on the evening news in the '60s.

If you remember the first turbine-powered commercial airliners, you can see the Boeing Dash 80, the prototype of the Boeing 707. Or you can simply admire the beauty of the Concorde.

The Udvar-Hazy Center, like the flagship in Washington, preserves our nation's aviation and aerospace heritage. The museum contains more than enough exhibits to fill a day's observation and makes it a must-see for air and space enthusiasts.

My next stops? Space Camp in Alabama and the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Michael Williams is a recently retired doctor, an avid aeronautic and astronautic enthusiast, was well as an ongoing contributor to InSCIder.

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