In the summer of 1991, we packed up our meager belongings, decamped our Midwestern home, and made our way to the nation’s capital. We’d been a couple less than two years at that point, so this move was a major shift in our relationship. Moves of such magnitude can make or break a relationship. By the time we arrived at our tiny apartment near the University of Maryland campus, we were uneasy and not yet employed, but wide eyed at the possibilities for us. Even before the kitchen was unpacked, we made our way on the Metro to the National Air and Space Museum (NASM).
NASM was buzzing with school groups and tourists from around the globe. NASM is, after all, the most popular museum in the world, averaging nine million visitors every year. No wonder, as it houses the world’s largest collection of air- and spacecraft. The chronological place we began our outing was the Wright Flyer, which took the first-ever airplane flight in 1903 and has since undergone a series of repairs and reconstructions, most recently in 1985. Yes, the Flyer was blown over by a wind gust on its third and final flight, it was damaged by flood ten years later, and it was revamped for a London exhibition, but that’s not a replica at NASM—that’s the original aircraft that first flew!
That’s not the first thing we saw that day we walked into NASM, though. As soon as we walked through the doors, we touched the Moon rock and circled the Gemini IV capsule, from which Edward H. White II strolled on the first American spacewalk in 1965. And yes, there was the F-104 Starfighter and the X-15, real-life instances of the models Doug had built as a youngster. Over our heads, the X-15 was a blue-black, muscular plane with Mach 6 speed and the ability to reach an altitude of 67 miles. At that height, the plane is really a spacecraft.
In the weeks after our visit to NASM, Anna would begin class in the MFA program, and the rhythms of the schoolyear calendar would be one way we shaped our lives, even to this day. Doug would send out resumés and take a position at the NASA Center for Aerospace Information (CASI). That job, though we didn’t realize it at the time, linked the passions of our childhoods with the ambitions of our adulthood together. This past Sunday, we returned to NASM almost twenty years later and now launch Lofty Ambitions Blog.