Field Trip Report 1

The Library of Congress

December 6, 2008

The Great Hall: Taken from the Library of Congress website

The Library of Congress was the first stop on our excursion to Washington D.C. Inside the Thomas Jefferson building lies the Exploring the Early Americas exhibit, our site of interest. The large collection was donated by Jay Kislak, a real estate broker who travels the world with his wife, a historian and art consultant, in search of pieces to add to his collection. The exhibit contains three distinct sections, Pre-Contact America, Explorations and Encounters, and Aftermath of the Encounter.

Ceremonial Stone Hip Belt: Taken from the Library of Congress website

The first artifact that interested me was a ceremonial stone hip belt found in Puerto Rico. It dates back to 700–1500 AD, well before the Europeans discovered the New World. It represents the belts worn around the waist of participants in the Mesoamerican ballgame. The game was played with a very hard ball in slab-lined ball courts, often played to the death. These rituals were an important part of the political and ritual life of ancient Mesoamericans.

Map of Tenochtitlán: Taken from the Library of Congress website

Another exhibit that caught my attention was a map of Tenochtitlán. It amazed me how complex the city was, especially that long ago in a place uninfluenced by European culture until their arrival. The map was created in 1524, a period during the interaction between Europeans and the natives. The map makes comments about a new sea and ocean along with Tenochtitlán, now the site of common day Mexico City. The map shown was the first in European print of Tenochtitlán and the Gulf of Mexico. Illustrated above are temples, a plaza, houses, causeways, suburbs, lakes, and towns. It was drawn using both European and indigenous sources, showing that the Aztecs possessed the knowledge to create maps and plot land in a logical way. The creater of this map must have thought that the city of Tenochtitlán was a very important place to both the Aztecs and the Europeans since he took the time to accurately detail the entire city and surroundings. It may have been used for strategic planning for an attack or for other informational purposes.

Piece of treasure found in wreck: This picture is taken from the Library of Congress website

During the centuries of Spanish exploration and colonization, treasure fleets made frequent trips to the Americas to deliver goods and collect treasures and precious metals to bring back. In late summer merchant ships would meet their protectors, the war galleons of the Spanish Armada, in Havana to form a treasure fleet to return to Spain. The ships often split up on the return trip because of bad weather, poor seamanship, or piracy. In early September 1622, the Nuestra Señora de Atocha, a galleon carrying tons of Spanish treasure, was wrecked on the Florida coral reefs near the Dry Tortugas, leaving only five survivors. This gold bullion is one of the items recovered from the site of the wreck. It shows how important gold was to the Europeans as they would spend vast resources to collect it and bring it back from the Americas since the natural metal was found in high in abundance in the New World, especially in Mexico and its surrounding parts.

The Air & Space Museum

December 6, 2008

The final stop in our trip to Washington D.C. was The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Inside we explored the Space: Our Journey to Our Future exhibit on the first floor. It focuses on past, present, and future space exploration programs.

NASA is taking a step to open exploration beyond Earth's atmosphere. The Constellation Program plans on sending astronauts back into space by 2014 and to the moon by 2020. It plans on one day extending its reach to the moon as well. To achieve this NASA has designed two new boosters for this mission, the Ares I and Ares V. Ares I will be used simultaneously with Orion, a crew compartment, to help with the launch into low earth orbit. Ares V is able to carry more cargo into space and propel astronauts to the moon. Another goal of the project is to build an outpost on the Moon to support a long-term human presence there. Astronauts will use current technology to make use of the resources on the moon for survival. Orion, the crew compartment for the mission, impliments modern technology to make it possible for 6 astronauts to reach the International Space Station and 4 to land on the moon. This exhibit was displayed as large posters with pictures of the spacecraft components as well as a brief description of the mission details. Next to the posters sat a 1:34 scale model of the Ares I booster. I thought it was a nice addition to realize the magnitude of the project.

This exhibit also took time to explain past missions, such as the Mars Pathfinder Mission. The Mars Pathfinder was launched on December 4, 1996 by NASA. The successful mission was terminated on March 10, 1998. The rover operated for a total of 83 sols (a solar day on Mars) collecting samples of the surface and taking pictures. The mission also measured temperature, air pressure, wind speed, and its equipment included hazard detection lasers, potentiometers, accelerometers, and other sensors for its measurements and readings. After the lander's return to Earth and the mission's termination, the Mars Pathfinder was renamed as the Sagan Memorial Station in honor of the famous astronomer and planetologist Carl Sagan. This exhibit was displayed on posters on the walls much like the other exhibits found in the corner of the the room on space exploration.

NASA has teamed up in a joint project with German Research Labs (DRL) in its Stratospheric Observatory for Infared Astronomy. SOFIA is a Boeing 747SP airliner, a modified aircraft which used to be flown commercially by United Airlines and Pan Am. It now carries a 2.5 meter diameter reflecting telescope in the aft section of the fuselage. The telescope is designed for infrared astronomy observations at altitudes of about 41,000 feet in the stratosphere. The need for this project arises because water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere blocks some infrared wavelengths from reaching the ground, but because it flys at such a high altitude it is above nearly all of the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere. At the aircraft's cruising altitude, 85% of the full infrared range is detectable. Another plus of having a flying telescope is it can fly to almost any point on the Earth's surface, allowing observation from the northern and southern most hemispheres. The maiden flight of SOFIA took place on April 26, 2007 and just recently, the aircraft underwent flight tests at high altitude cruising speed with the telescope door open. This test phase is scheduled to run through the middle of 2009, after which SOFIA will begin limited science observation flights. Normal science observation flights are expected to begin in 2011 and the observatory is expected to be fully capable by 2014.


The Library of Congress and the National Air & Space Museum both have very distinct types of exhibits which cater to different audiences. I felt that the Library of Congress is more adult oriented like a tourist attraction for people from other countries. The National Air & Space Museum on the other hand is angled for a younger audience. I first noticed this difference in style by the amount of hands on activities at the NASM. Many exhibits were interactive, my favotite being the one where you design a Mars homebase for a space colony. You get to place burger restaurants, a zoo, a "World's" Gym, power plants, living quarters, and many other buildings on Mars. Mine was obviously lined with burger restaurants. Another site of much attention was the The Infrared You exhibit with an infared camera showing the heat radiating from your body. Kids were more fascinated with the bright colors on the flat screen television than the technology behind the infared camera. This goes to show that the museum tries to make science interesting to little kids because they are the future astronauts and scientists of America, otherwise the NASM would just be some boring museum with pictures and words on the wall. Wait, that sounds a lot like the Library of Congress, well, if I were five years old. I think the Library of Congress was fascinating in a different way. I remember wandering around into Thomas Jefferson's library collection and was dumbfounded by the amount of literature he had read and collected. Thomas Jefferson was truely a scholar and a man of wisdom, but I feel the only thing a young kid would take away from that exhibit is, "Wow, those are a lot of old books." The one thing both exhibits shared was the common goal to educate its viewers. Yes, they had different ways of doing so, but at the end of the day the viewer takes away knowledge of the methods of human exploration and what previous explorers have discovered.

Exploration has remained a constant part of human history. Man has always been fascinated by the unknown. In the early first millenia Europeans were fascinated by the East and the far beyond. Then focus moved to India and Africa, continuing on to the Americas after its discovery in 1492. Both exhibits provided various displays of the technology of the time and how it changed the motives and scale of exploration. Christopher Columbus used Spain's desire for power to fund his journey to the New World. From there he returned with riches, knowledge, and power for the Spanish empire. When compared to the technology, motives, and scale of exploration done by NASA, current space exploration surpasses previous exploration in technology and scale tremendously. Early technology consisted of an astrolabe and whatever map has been charted. These were used to find ones way through a vastly undiscovered world as much of the Earth was left uncharted back in the 1500's. Due to new technology such as satellite imaging and GPS, a lot of the world has been mapped, leaving the ocean depths and caves as the rare unknown remaining. As for NASA's intentions, they plan to explore the solar system and beyond to gain new knowledge while searching for possible extraterrestial life. As for scale, a journey accross the Atlantic meant traveling around 10,000km over the span of 3 months. The Apollo 11 mission lasted 8 days and covered a span of 800,000km. The difference is remarkable, as technology grows so does man's ambition. I believe man has a natural curiosity to understand the unknown, and both exhibits seemed contend to this belief. Man is also a competitor. In the 1500's, Spain and Portugal were the forerunners of exploration. Their vast navies scattered the oceans finding new places to conquer. This competition can be seen between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. back in the 60's and 70's as both were competing in the Space Race. The U.S. came out on top and remains the leader in space exploration today. Exploration has been evident since the beginning of man, it will be an integral part of humanity in 100 years as it has the last 2000.

Back to Main Page

Last modified: 14 December 2008