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Washington Trip-Christmas, 2000

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum- here’s a little synopsis of some highlights.

I was astonished to discover that the bottom diameter of the Hubbell Telescope is only marginally larger than one of my big Paiste concert gongs, which is also made from considerably sturdier looking metal than the outside of the Hubbell, which looks to be primarily constructed out of Reynolds Wrap. Possibly designed in one of those phases where NASA was facing nasty budget cuts. Could this have anything to do with the constant maintenance that this fantastic telescope seems to enjoy?

Apollo-Soyuz Project- this joint venture was linked together in space with a 12 ft plastic inner tube like you would find in a children’s playground. No wonder U.S.-Russian relations were shaky for so long with this sort of connective tissue.

Skylab-went inside, got some great ideas about how to reorganize our kitchen.

Early cosmonaut engineer’s space suit-talk about cutting costs in the wrong places-gray wool suit with huge holes, presumably from giant space moths-would not have looked out of place in “Plan 9 from Outer Space”. Which came first, I wonder? No silly pressurized space suits for these rough tough Ruskies… Nooooo. Space suits were for babies and Americans anyway. A nice gray woolen number was just the thing to keep them toasty warm in that cold, nasty 0 gravity. Just be careful about those giant space moths, boys. To complete the ensemble was a fairly sharp looking, double edged 4” knife, hanging from one sleeve, always at the ready, that bore an uncanny resemblance to a New York City stiletto, circa 1960, presumably to fight off space aliens and other unwanted intruders. By comparison 
John Glenn’s 1962 space suit seemed like Luke Skywalker’s.

Growing up I thought, as did many young boys in the 60’s, that being an astronaut would be a pretty fantastic job and in a way I still do, however if you have any issues with claustrophobia you might want to reappraise that as a viable career option.

Inexplicably, in one room that I wandered into, thinking I was going to be seeing some documentary on space exploration, I instead saw a roomful of people watching a hockey game. I did not stay long enough to see what connection this had with the space program, if indeed it had any at all. It was entirely possible I wandered into a wormhole which had instantly transported me to a parallel dimension or possibly a Boston sports bar and delivered me back again with all my molecular structure fully intact.

Here is a listing of some of the astronaut’s personal space accessories:

-Lactona toothbrush 

-Old Spice aftershave — who the hell are they having to smell so nice for in outer space anyway? Hmm….

-The urine transfer tube looked remarkably like what is commonly known in truck stops across America as “The Truckers Friend” used by those long haul drivers. Wonder where NASA got that idea? 

-Money belts — now there is a truly useless item in space.

-Nail trimmers! Where in the hell do those clippings go? You don’t want one of those floating around in your hard disk drive. “Ahh, Houston, we have a problem.”

Command module for Apollo II -makes those new Japanese hotel rooms that resemble coffins with televisions seem like a room at The Four Seasons.

Remarkably, there was an entire exhibit dedicated to the exploration for extraterrestrial life, which I thought was quite forward thinking of our government. Considering how much time, money and resources that have been and will continue to be squandered in an effort to completely discredit anyone, regardless of rank or credibility who claims to have seen a UFO, it was a noble, empty gesture. But very entertaining!

All in all a truly fascinating museum with loads I didn’t get to see this time due to the fact that I had to meet Heather to go gaze at antique Asian vases. But for anyone interested in the history of Aviation and the evolving history of our space program this is a must see. Get there early and plan to spend the whole day there. Next time I will. Emperor Ming and all his stuff will just have to wait.

Vietnam Vets Memorial- This was by far the most intense exhibit we saw – 58,000 useless deaths. An unhinging experience, especially for Heather, who as a singer, did two tours of Vietnam and was the first woman to go to remote combat outposts to entertain the troops with the USO.

The Lincoln Memorial-Beautiful, and I will NEVER EVER let anyone give me a hard time about run on sentences again. Abe Lincoln, unparalleled run on sentence meister supreme and wonderful they were too, Abe!

The White House tour- Once every 38 years, like clockwork, I like to take this tour. Heather insisted we take it before Bill left office and George Jr. took over, so in the interest of continued domestic tranquility, I acquiesced. It wasn’t so much the two and a half hours we had to wait in below freezing temperatures that bothered me (although that was pretty irritating,) as much as having to endure with polite indifference the seemingly endless inane prattle that the two women in front of me mistook for conversation. I cannot believe anyone could find the discussion of the merits of various Posture Pedic sofa beds so endlessly fascinating as these two donuts did, and for the better part of two hours no less.

Once inside and defrosted I had to admit it was pretty impressive. This was the once a year candlelight tour which happens for 3 evenings only over the Christmas holidays. 90 decorators working for 3 days straight, if that’s the right term. Imagine the cat fights breaking out there! Still, fairly breathtaking, and the decorations too. We behaved like complete tourists and then hobbled back to our hotel.

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