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New “Time and Navigation” Exhibit Opens April 12 at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum

April 10, 2013

If people want to know where they are, they need a reliable clock. It might seem surprising, but knowing the accurate time is essential for determining position. 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 thinking about.”

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.

Sections

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).

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—GPS. 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 Laboratory.

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.

The National 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 website is http://airandspace.si.edu.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To learn more about the museum, visit http://americanhistory.si.edu.

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SI-132-2013

Media only
Isabel Lara
(202) 633-2374
larai@si.edu

Alison Mitchell
(202) 633-2376
mitchella@si.edu

 

Related photos: 

Time and Navigation - "Winnie Mae" Gallery Shot

Photo: Eric Long, Smithsonian

“Time and Navigation: The Untold Story of Getting from Here to There” opens April 12, 2013 at the National Air and Space Museum.

Image Number: WEB12824-2013

 

Related photos: 

Time and Navigation - Apollo Sextant and Scanning Telescope

Photo: Eric Long, Smithsonian

Navigating in space: to determine position in space, an Apollo astronaut located a specific star using a single-power, wide-field telescope and then took a fix using a sextant. While this instrument does not look like a traditional sextant, the basic procedure is descended from centuries-old methods used by navigators at sea and in the air.

Related photos: 

Time and Navigation - Bond Chronometer

Photo: Eric Long, Smithsonian

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.

This artifact is in the National Museum of American History's collection. It will go on display in the Time and Navigation exhibition, scheduled to open at the National Air and Space Museum in 2013.

Related photos: 

Time and Navigation - Bygrave Position-Line Slide Rule

Photo: Eric Long, Smithsonian

Celestial navigation requires complicated computations. Performing these calculations in cramped open cockpits with low temperatures and wind speeds of over 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour was part of what made navigation difficult in the early years of aviation. Thankfully, Capt. L. C. Bygrave developed this handy slide rule shortly after World War I.

Related photos: 

Time and Navigation - Dutch Pendulum Clock

Photo: Eric Long, Smithsonian

In order to know where you are you need an accurate clock.

Related photos: 

Time and Navigation - Gallery Shot

Photo: Eric Long, Smithsonian

“Time and Navigation: The Untold Story of Getting from Here to There” opens April 12, 2013 at the National Air and Space Museum.

Image Number: WEB12823-2013

 

Related photos: 

Time and Navigation - Lockheed Vega 5C Winnie Mae

Photo: Dane Penland, Smithsonian

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.

Related photos: 

Time and Navigation - Longines Sidereal Second-Setting watch

Photo: Mark Avino, Smithsonian

Before 1927, watches used with sextants for celestial sightings could only be set to the minute. A watch error of 30 seconds caused a navigational error of up to 12 kilometers (7 miles). In 1927, P. V. H. Weems devised a watch with an adjustable second hand that could be set using radio time signals. This was one of his personal navigation watches.

Related photos: 

Time and Navigation - Ramsden Sextant

Photo: Eric Long, Smithsonian

Navigating at sea: this sextant was one of the navigation tools invented in the 18th century by British mathematical instrument makers that permitted mariners to find their position much better than ever before. The sextant became the most essential instrument for celestial navigation, used to find the angle of a celestial body above the horizon.

Related photos: 

Time and Navigation - Stanley Autonomous Vehicle

Photo: Stanford Racing Team

This autonomous vehicle, named Stanley, was developed by the Stanford Racing Team. Stanley is a 2005 Volkswagen Touareg modified to navigate without remote control and without a human driver in the seat.



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