Sunday, August 5, 2012

Landsat: Four Decades of Earth Observation

Where: Air and Space Museum

When: through August 20, 2012

I can never decide which Smithsonian Museum I dislike more: Air and Space or the Hirshhorn.  Long-time readers of this blog know my views on the Hirshhorn (for you newcomers, I don't like it), but I'll give you this - it's not crowded.  Air and Space, on the other hand, is a zoo.  Even the least attractive exhibits are full of people, and most of them seem to be 12-year old boys, whose only method of communication is screaming and shoving each other.  Even if I manage to ignore my fellows visitors, there's still the fact that I'm just not that interested in outer space and how we get there.

So why do I keep going back, you ask?  Well, mostly it's because I decided to go to all the Smithsonian exhibits, and that includes Air and Space, and I'm just too anal retentive to start picking and choosing now, and partly it's because I did once see a terrific show there - pictures of the planets that were breathtakingly beautiful.  I thought that perhaps this exhibit might also feature great photography, and went with higher hopes than usual.

As it turns out, I might have saved my high hopes for another exhibit, as this one was less than riveting.  The website indicates that it opened just last month, but I find that hard to believe.  The displays look as if they've been up for 20+ years; I've seen exhibits they've put up recently, and they look nothing like this.

There are a few tidbits of information I managed to glean in my time there: people have been trying to get a birds-eye view of the earth for many years - at one point, they used pigeons with cameras strapped to their chests to fly around and take pictures (the cameras were set to snap pics at pre-determined intervals, the pigeons weren't actually taking the photos).  The poor birds looked rather weighted down - one wonders how they managed to get off the ground.

Landsat allows you to look at areas of the earth over time.  Workers were getting sick at a worksite, and through the examination of old pictures of the site, it was discovered that toxic waste had been dumped there decades earlier.

A large section of the exhibit was devoted to spy planes (what seem to be the predecessor to the current drones).  I noticed on display a pilot survival kit.  For those of you who remember Dr. Strangelove, there were no prophylactics.

Verdict:  You can give this a miss; one can only hope that something more exciting will fill the space after this show is over.

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