A major exhibition opening April 12, “Time
and Navigation: the untold story of getting from here to there,”
explores how revolutions in timekeeping over three centuries have influenced
how people find their way. This project is a unique collaboration between
two of the Smithsonian’s largest and most popular museums: the National Air
and Space Museum and the National Museum of American History.
“Time and Navigation is an ambitious exhibit because it traces the
development of very complicated technologies and makes us think about a
subject we now take for granted,” said Gen. J.R. “Jack” Dailey, director of
the museum. “Today, the technology needed to accurately navigate is
integrated into mobile computers and phones: hundreds of years of
technological heritage tell your handheld device where you are in a seamless
manner. This opens up new possibilities and challenging questions for the
next generation of scientists and explorers who visit this exhibit to start
Don Jewell discussed the exhibit in depth in his March
Defense PNT column.
The gallery is organized into five sections and spans three centuries of
efforts to travel on Earth and through the solar system. In each section the
visitor will learn about pioneer navigators facing myriad issues, but one
challenge always stands out: the need to know accurate time.
This timekeeper was the first American-made marine timekeeper taken to
sea. William Cranch Bond, a 23-year-old Boston clockmaker, crafted it
during the War of 1812.
Navigating at Sea is an
immersive environment that suggests a walk through a 19th-century sailing
vessel. Visitors will learn how centuries ago navigators at sea relied on
chronometers and measurements of celestial objects to determine location.
This section includes a mariner’s astrolabe, dating from 1602; a Ramsden
sextant and dividing engine; several chronometers; a model of Galileo’s
pendulum clock; and the earliest sea-going marine chronometer made in the
United States, produced by Bostonian William Cranch Bond during the War of
1812. It also features an interactive display that allows visitors to use a
sextant to navigate with the stars.
Navigating in the Air relates
how air navigators struggled with greater speeds, worse weather and more
cramped conditions than their sea-going predecessors. It tells the story of
the innovations that overcame these challenges, as represented the gallery’s
largest artifact, the Lockheed Vega “Winnie Mae,” flown by Wiley Post and
Harold Gatty, shattering the around-the-world record in 1931. Visitors will
learn that Charles Lindbergh required navigational tutoring after he flew to
Paris and how he paved the way for a new system of navigation in the
process. A personal account by a WWII navigator highlights wartime
innovations. This section ends with an explanation of how clocks with tiny
quartz crystals opened an entirely new era of navigation in the form of
LORAN (LOng RAnge Navigation).
Wiley Post’s Winnie Mae circled the globe two times, shattering previous
records. The first time was in 1931 with Weems associate Harold Gatty as
lead navigator. The second was a solo flight in 1933 assisted by
“Mechanical Mike,” one of the world’s first practical autopilots.
Navigating in Space traces
how teams of talented engineers invented the new science of space navigation
using star sightings, precise timing and radio communications. This section
includes an Apollo sextant, a space shuttle star tracker, timing equipment
used at a ground tracking station and a flight spare (duplicate spacecraft)
of Mariner 10, the first spacecraft to reach Mercury.
Inventing Satellite Navigation describes
how traveling in space inspired plans to navigate from space. Innovators
found that time from precise clocks on satellites, transmitted by radio
signals, could be used to determine location. The U.S. military combined
several breakthroughs to create the Global Positioning System. Some of the
artifacts in this section are the NIST-7 atomic clock that served as the
U.S. time standard in the 1990s, the navigation system from the nuclear
submarine U.S.S. Alabama,
a satellite from the Transit system used for global navigation before GPS
and a test satellite global navigation built at the Naval Research
An official DARPA photograph of Stanley at the 2005 DARPA Grand
Challenge. Stanley, created by the Stanford University Racing Team, won
Navigation for Everyone tells
the stories of real people — a fireman, a farmer and a student — who use
modern navigation technology in their everyday lives. It also addresses what
might come next: the story is not over yet and many new technologies are
being developed. This section includes a disassembled mobile phone with a
diagram showing all its parts and depicts how hundreds of years of
navigation technology are now in the palm of a user’s hand. It also features
“Stanley,” the robot car that won the 2005 Grand Challenge, a robot race
sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
The exhibition is made possible through the support of Northrop Grumman
Corporation; Exelis Inc.; Honeywell; National Geospatial-Intelligence
Agency; U.S. Department of Transportation; Magellan GPS; National
Coordination Office for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing;
Rockwell Collins; and the Institute of Navigation.
Air and Space Museum building
on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and
Independence Avenue S.W. The museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located
in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. The National
Museum of American Historycollects, preserves and displays American
heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and