Sunday, May 1, 2011

Beyond the Limits: Flight Enters the Computer Age

Where: National Museum of Air and Space

When: through May 2011

Full confession, Air and Space is not my favorite museum. It's very crowded year-round, and most of the people there are small, screaming boys. Spaceships and rockets hold little interest for me; I know that it's an amazing achievement for human beings to leave Earth and explore outer space, but I just can't get worked up over seeing how that happens.

This exhibit has not changed my mind about either space flight or the Air and Space Museum, but if that sort of thing appeals to you, by all means have at it.

The show seems quite dated, and I looked it up online later and found out it opened in 1989. I can only imagine the curators are taking it down to modernize it a bit - it needs it! The development of the space program and the development of computers went hand in hand; it really does astonish me that the flight to the moon was possible with the archaic computer technology available in the 1960s. As the exhibit states, there was a time when a computer was a person who added numbers; that person was usually a woman who had been a math major, and while the men got to do drawings of space ships, the women handled the calculations.

I did enjoy seeing the movie poster from "Dr. Strangelove" in the section on airborne invasion - not sure how much that poster will resonate with young visitors today.

The exhibit, although in need of sprucing up, was quite popular, and I had to make my way through a large crowd - probably due to the flashing lights over the entrance.

Verdict: Air and Space is the only museum which makes me think with fondness of the Hirshhorn, so I can't recommend going there for anything less than a top-notch show. On the other hand, when they put up another exhibit in this space, it will be interesting to see how it has changed.

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