Smithsonian Institution

How DO Toilets Work in Space?

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. is getting a massive makeover that includes the construction and renovation of 23 galleries.

As part of that process, which is set to be completed sometime in 2025, the whole museum has been closed since March.

But the west wing is scheduled to open in the fall of 2022 with new exhibitions that explore a wide variety of aviation themes, including the Wright Brothers’ story, planets and moons, early aviation, high-speed technology, and other topics.

In advance of the opening, the Smithsonian is adopting a new brand identity and logomark for the National Air and Space Museum that “uses positive and negative space to create a stylized craft that simultaneously suggests both aviation and space flight.”

Look for it at the end of this inspiring “Space for Everyone” video that gives a nod to “airheads, space cases, flight fanatics, armchair astronauts, and the casually curious.” And to those who are “captivated by the miracle of flight and those who are just happy to make their flight.”

See where you land.

Smithsonian offers eye-level view of Spirit of St. Louis

Spirit of St. Louis Image by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Spirit of St. Louis Image by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

The “Spirit of St. Louis” – the plane in which a 26-year-old Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic flight in May, 1927 – is one of the most popular artifacts at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

The plane is usually suspended from the gallery ceiling, but for the next five months the plane will be on the floor at eye level while it undergoes preservation work in preparation for an updated exhibition in the museum’s central space, also known as the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall.

The last time the plane was lowered to the gallery floor was in 1992.

Spirit of St. Louis. Image by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Spirit of St. Louis. Image by Mark Avino, Smithsonian Institution

Got a second? Time & Navigation exhibit at the Smithsonian

The National Air & Space Museum and the National Museum of American History have joined forces to create a new permanent exhibition at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. called Time and Navigation: The Untold Story of Getting from Here to There.

Winnie Mae

Wiley Post’s Winnie Mae circled the globe two times, shattering previous records.
Photo: Eric Long, Smithsonian

The new exhibit explores how revolutions in timekeeping allowed people to find their way and includes sections about navigation at sea, in the air and in space,

Great on-line resources include a Timeline of Innovation, which notes that a new and more accurate definition of a second – the basic unit of time – was adopted in 1967.

“The new second was based on the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of radiation in an isotope of cesium. Previously, the second had been defined as 1/86,400th of the mean solar day. The change was momentous. Atomic clocks had demonstrated that the unvarying vibrations of atoms were more accurate timekeepers than the irregular daily rotation of the Earth.”

Definition of a second

A new second. courtesy National Air & Space Museum

Smithsonian exhibit shows jets as art

AirCraft: The Jet as Art,” an exhibition featuring 33 super-sized, high-resolution images of aircraft, opens Nov. 25 at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The images, many as large as 6 feet by 6 feet, are courtesy of photographer, graphic designer, architect and licensed pilot Jeffrey Milstein, who captured many of the images by standing at the end of a runway at Los Angeles International Airport and photographing planes from underneath as they came in to land.


“It’s like shooting a moving duck,” said Milstein. “The planes are moving so fast, and I have only a hundredth of a second to get my shot. I have to keep the camera moving with the plane and then fire the shot exactly at the top dead center. It took a lot of practice.”

At times, it also took some negotiation.

“One of the problems if you’re hanging around an airport with a camera a lot of times is that the authorities get a bit antsy,” said Milstein. “Especially since 9/11. When I first started going out to the airport, the police would sometimes converge on me with up to six cars at once. Now they know me because I’ve been out there so much.”


Milstein’s practice and perseverance have paid off.  Using a high-end professional camera that Milstein said costs “as much as an SUV,” the photographer was able to get images that reveal the mechanics, rivets and other details of an airplane’s underbelly. “With Photoshop, I remove the sky background so that the airplanes become just floating objects. As far as the colors, I don’t fake anything, but I might clarify to increase the contrast or bring out the detail,” said Milstein.

“There are a lot of amateurs out there photographing planes,” said exhibition curator Carolyn Russo, a museum specialist and photographer. “But what Milstein ends up with are really crisp, clean, beautiful color images that transform the planes into art and are unlike any other photographs of aircraft. We’ve compared them to an array of pinned butterflies.”

Alaska Airlines Salmon Thirty Salmon Boeing 737-400

Among the images on display, Milstein has a few favorites, including a red Southwest Airlines Boeing 737, an American Airlines Boeing 777-200 that’s “just silver, and just really beautiful,” the helicopters and some of the planes he’s photographed from the side that sport pictures, such as Alaska Airline’s Boeing 737-400 Salmon-Thirty-Salmon plane.

Alaska Airlines Disney Boeing 737-400

“AirCraft: The Jet as Art” will remain on display until Nov. 25, 2012, at the National Air and Space Museum.

(A slightly different version of this story appeared on’s Overhead Bin)

Photographs courtesy Jeffrey Milstein/Smithsonian Museum