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Having a Blast at the Air and Space Museum in Virginia

Posted on January 23rd, 2020 by

Blog post by Program Assistant Laura Grant. To read more posts from Laura, click here.

When I lived in Washington, DC, I visited the Smithsonian Museums quite frequently, including the National Air and Space Museum. I even volunteered for the “Flights of Fancy” Story Time program for a brief period. However, it took moving to Baltimore for me to visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the companion museum to the one on the Mall located in Chantilly, VA.

The Udvar-Hazy Center is unlike other museums I have visited. The artifacts, which include airplanes, helicopters, and a space shuttle are much larger than typical museum objects. They are also displayed in a huge, open hangar. The Center has a very distinctive look and feel that adds to the experience.

Me in front of the “Dash 80”

There are about 170 airplanes displayed in the Center. This number includes both commercial and military aircraft. Some of the highlights of the visit for me included the “Dash 80,” the precursor to America’s first commercial jet, the “Enola Gay,” which dropped the first atomic bomb during World War II, and the Concorde which flew people across the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound. I also enjoyed the collection of small aircraft that were built by individuals, sometimes even in their own backyards.

The “Enola Gay”

My favorite object may have been stratospheric suit worn by Alan Eustace when he parachuted down to Earth from the stratosphere. With his flight, he set the record for the highest altitude free fall jump.

The other main section of the Center focuses on space exploration. The highlight of this area is the Space Shuttle Discovery, the oldest and most accomplished space orbiter. The scale of the Discovery is awe-inspiring.

I also found the innovativeness of the Apollo 11 flotation bag used to turn the spacecraft right around after it landed in the ocean impressive.

The last aspect of the Center that I visited was the Observation Tower which provides a panoramic view of Dulles airport and the nearby region. I have always loved watching planes take off and land and was glad I had the opportunity to experience that here.

Visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center made me excited for JMM’s next exhibition, Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit. While there won’t be any spacecraft on display, the exhibit will feature many unique objects including rare, ancient texts about astronomy and Judaica taken into space by the first male Jewish-American astronaut, Dr. Jeffrey Hoffman. You won’t want to miss it!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Living in the Realm of Impossibility

Posted on January 9th, 2020 by

A blog post by JMM Executive Director Marvin Pinkert. You can read more posts by Marvin here.

Each morning at breakfast I stare at the words of a Chinese proverb inscribed into the back of a tea bottle – “Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those doing it.” It always serves as a reminder that from a historic perspective we live, for better and worse, in the realm of the impossible.

Two centennial events – 7,000 miles apart – give this expression additional meaning this January. The first is an editorial in the New York Times on January 13, 1920 and the second is the birth of a future author in a shtetl in Belarus on January 2, 1920.

Dr. Robert Goddard at a chalkboard at Clark University in 1924. Credit: NASA

The editorial was entitled “A Severe Strain on Credulity” and it mocked a young scientist named Robert Goddard for a recent publication which in part suggested that rockets might be used to make a journey to the moon. The Times criticism was based on the widely held belief that rockets would be totally ineffective in the vacuum of space.

That Professor Goddard, with his “chair” in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react–to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.

But there are such things as intentional mistakes or oversights, and, as it happens, Jules Verne, who also knew a thing or two in assorted sciences–and had, besides, a surprising amount of prophetic power–deliberately seems to make the same mistake that Professor Goddard seems to make. For the Frenchman, having got his travelers to or toward the moon into the desperate fix riding a tiny satellite of the satellite, saved them from circling it forever by means of an explosion, rocket fashion, where an explosion would not have had in the slightest degree the effect of releasing them from their dreadful slavery. That was one of Verne’s few scientific slips, or else it was a deliberate step aside from scientific accuracy, pardonable enough of him in a romancer, but its like is not so easily explained when made by a savant who isn’t writing a novel of adventure.

All the same, if Professor Goddard’s rocket attains a sufficient speed before it passes out of our atmosphere–which is a thinkable possibility–and if its aiming takes into account all of the many deflective forces that will affect its flight, it may reach the moon. That the rocket could carry enough explosive to make on impact a flash large and bright enough to be seen from earth by the biggest of our telescope–that will be believed when it is done.

I should point out that the Times officially retracted this editorial… in 1969! The path towards success of Goddard’s concept was not easy… the history of advances in rocket science was forged in the cauldron of envy, fear, and hatred. It passed through the hell of V2 rockets, the dubious morality of cold war competition and as we witnessed this week still has a very dark side. Yet it is hard not to celebrate the most extraordinary human adventure which rockets enabled. It is the stuff (the right stuff) that dreams are made of.

Isaac Asimov, 1959 or earlier. Photo by Philip Leonian, New York World-Telegram & Sun, courtesy of the Library of Congress, via.

At about the same time, on the other side of the planet, a child is born whose dreams of future worlds will have a significant impact on our culture. The exact date on which Anna Azimov gave birth to her son Isaak is unknown, but Isaak (later Isaac Asimov) would celebrate his birthday on January 2. His parents were grain millers in the shtetl of Petrovichi near Smolensk. Born into an Orthodox family, Isaac would grow up to be a skeptic of all religious belief and a leader in the American Humanist Association. His family emigrated from Russia when he was three, settling in Brooklyn. He went on to write or edit more than 500 books, covering nearly every aspect of science and philosophy as well as some of the most important works of science fiction of the last century, including The Foundation series, I, Robot, and the novelette Nightfall.

When I was eighteen, I met Dr. Asimov at a lecture he gave at George Washington University. This was one of my first encounters with a genuine celebrity, so it was a memorable experience. I recall that part of his talk was a defense of the work of Norman Borlaug, father of the green revolution in the third world. Borlaug had advocated the use of new technologies (including GMOs) to increase food production. He had come under increasing attack from early environmentalists and advocates of a “back-to-nature” approach to food production. Asimov pointed out to the audience that the green revolution had increased the Earth’s food production by as much as one third – “who in this room”, he asked, “is willing to be a part of the third of the planet that will need to die of starvation if we revert to earlier forms of agriculture?”  I thought then, as I do now, that this was a pretty profound question about privilege.

And yet, when I turn the bottle of tea – I can’t help noticing that on the other side of the Chinese proverb is a label that reads “organic” green tea. Another reminder that I live in the realm of the impossible.

Jews in Space

P.S. if you are interested in the history of space travel both real and imagined, mark your calendars for May 24, the opening of Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit! Dr. Asimov will be included as will Jules Verne (in Yiddish, of course).


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Marylanders Feel the Wonder of Space

Posted on December 31st, 2019 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

As some of you know, the JMM is bringing Jews in Space: Members of the Tribe in Orbit, an original exhibition created by the Center for Jewish History, to Baltimore in May 2020.

The exhibit features national and international stories of Jewish contributions to astronomy, space exploration, and science-fiction, from antiquity to today. There will be something for everyone, from dedicated space scientists to casual pop-culture fans, and anyone in between.

The original exhibit was shown in a small gallery, and so – if you’ll pardon the pun – the JMM has a lot of space to fill. As well as taking the opportunity to add some Maryland flavor to the existing exhibition components, we’re creating a special section on what the study of space means to Marylanders of ALL backgrounds and traditions.

I can’t emphasize this enough: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE JEWISH TO PARTICIPATE! If you grew up, live, or work in Maryland, and have an interest in space exploration in fact or fiction, we want your input!

We’ve created a brief survey, accessible via the Google Form link below, and we hope you’ll take a few moments to answer our questions about your connection with the wonder of space.  Please feel free to forward the survey to others who might be interested – we’re casting our net wide, and we want to reach as many people as possible.

Questions? Suggestions for people we should contact to make sure they have the chance to participate? Ideas for artifacts and photos we can include? Let us know! Contact Joanna Church, Director of Collections and Exhibits, at or 443-873-5176.  We’re very excited about bringing this great exhibit to Maryland, and we’re looking forward to discovering, and sharing, how Marylanders feel the wonders of space. Thanks in advance for your participation!

As many “Star Trek” fans know, actor Leonard Nimoy based the Vulcan hand sign for “Live long and prosper” on one of the gestures in the priestly blessing performed by KohanimThough best known by mainstream America thanks to the show, the symbol can also be found in various religious contexts, such as this wooden ark decoration from B’nai Reuben’s synagogue on Cottage Avenue, founded in 1934. Gift of Alvin Becker. JMM 1997.112.1.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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