An Article In Meteorite Times Magazine
Martin Horejsi's Meteorite and Tektite Books


The 2008 Smithsonian

Air and Space Museum Trophy winners:

Current Achievement: The Stardust team

Lifetime Achievement: Col. Joseph W. Kittinger Jr.

Accreting meteorites is not the only thing I collect here at the Accretion Desk. In fact, experiences make up a major portion of my collectibles, but often something else, like a meteorite, enters the mix as well adding a physical dimension to the cabinet. This month, I'd like to share an experience. Actually a set of experiences that made April a very memorable month. The center experience was a black tie awards party and dinner held in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on April 3rd of this year. Select members of the Stardust Mission Team were invited to attend the gala.



This image will stick with me forever. It is a string quartet playing in the glow of the heat shield of the Apollo 11 capsule. It was all part of the festivities of the 2008 National Air and Space Museum’s Trophy awards


dc mall from air

Beginning at the beginning, the journey started with a beautiful, uneventful flight across the country. In Washington DC, the cherry blossoms were in bloom, but not easily visible at 600 feet. But any safe landing in such tightly controlled airspace is the start of a great trip!


senate train


I arrived two days before the event, allowing me time to meet with our state's senators and take a tour of the capitol. This picture is of the private trains that run between the Senate buildings and the capitol building. On the cold, rainy days DC is famous for, those doing the public's work can move swiftly, if not somewhat comically, in the cleanest subway on the planet.




A pleasant surprise was running into Alan Poindexter (left) and Leland Melvin (right) who were also meeting with senators. But in their case, no doubt, the senators were much more excited to meet them than vise-versa. And definitely happier to talk to astronauts than to me!

I had met Leland during the Educator Astronaut selection process of which I was a selection committee member. And it was exciting to meet Alan, the pilot of the Space Shuttle Mission STS-122.



Although I didn't have a mission photograph on which to collect their autographs, they did give me a mission pin. Pins are a special treat within the NASA community, and carry their own significance as a commodity often being the only thing you can trade in order to get other pins. Although pins such as this one can easily be purchased right now, the memory of a brief encounter with just-returned astronauts makes this particular piece of enamel covered metal much more valuable than its $3.95 retail price.


joe on tv


Later that day, I was loitering around the Air and Space Museum at closing time when a TV crew arrived. I recognized Joe Kittinger who is the recipient of the the Lifetime Achievement Award. We got to talking and then spent some time in the closed museum, then moving a growing party over to our hotel where a celebration was brewing.


life cake


A special cake was made up for the party. The frosting on the top was a replication of the Life magazine cover featuring one of Joe's famous jumps. The cover appeared more than three years before I was born!

life mag


Since I knew I would be meeting Joe, I picked up an actual copy of the life magazine in hopes Joe would sign it for me.

Joe, by the way, holds several world records and is in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.


bob and me


Bob Gilliand, the main and first test pilot of the SR-71 Blackbird was at the party. Bob took the Blackbird supersonic and to 50,000 feet on its very first flight! Bob holds the world records for the most time above both Mach 2 and Mach 3 of any human.

We talked for over an hour that night, and his stories kept my head spinning. Something he mentioned that I still marvel over is when he said "You're never really lost until you are lost at mach 3!"

What this means is that the Blackbird needs to be refueled fairly often so the pilot has to drop way down in altitude and speed to meet up with a fuel tanker aircraft. But at mach 3 or about 40 miles per minute, and in a world without GPS, navigation and communication is more than critical, it can be life or death, or at least fly or eject.


signed kelly


I asked Bob what the best book about his experiences with the Skunk Works and the SR-71 might be, and he suggested Kelly: More Than My Share of it All. I bought a copy (I was near the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum bookstore after all) and he inscribed it for me. Bobs admiration for Kelly Johnson (arguably the worlds greatest aircraft engineer and the first director of the Skunk Works.

I still marvel at the date. The first flight of the SR-71 was eight days before my first birthday!



love me


Later that night, I ran into Stanley Love who also flew STS-122 and completed two space walks. Years ago, I met Stanley at an International Space Station training in Houston and had the pleasure of picking his brain about all things meteorite. One of his many specialty areas is the formation of chondrules, and the possibility of meteorites from the planet Mercury.




An appetizer to the excitement to come was the press conference in the center of the Milestones of Flight (aka: the main hall of the Air and Space Museum). Under the Spirit of St. Louis, the Bell X-1, SpaceShipOne, and the X-15 among other greats, and surrounded by none other than capsules from Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, was the public announcement of the Trophy winners.

crouch and me


Tom Crouch is the Senior Curator of the Division of Aeronautics at the National Air and Space Museum. Tom seemed to know everything about everything, and knew everybody. And even better, everyone knew him. He told great stories about all the astronauts and pilots he's met and written about over the years.

Tom has written a stunning number of books, and has the youthful enthusiasm that was common with all of us aerospace geeks. Showed him a model airplane my son made and Tom realized it look much the the Voyager aircraft hanging in his museum. I brought home a couple balsa wood gliders for my kids, and my son took two of them, taped their wings together, and added a paper airplane he made in the center of his craft. It flew beautifully. Not bad for a kindergartner. Tom though so also, and is holding my camera with the picture of my son and his airplane. Did I mention that I also collect experiences for my kids as well?

luke flying

luke plane


Here's a closeup of Lukas's experimental aircraft. I cannot wait to spend a few days in the Air and Space Museum with my kids.


don mcd


Before the press conference, the Stardust team members met in, of all places, the McDonalds in the Air and Space Museum. Don Brownlee gave an impromptu science update barely audible over the roar of the lunch crowd.


me and trophy


The Air and Space Museum closed early that day as the setup began for the Trophy party. Then, at our special time, the world's most visited museum was ours for the wandering, drink in hand, tuxedo with tails. The photo above is the Air and Space trophy by the display case containing memorabilia from Joe's amazing adventures, and the Stardust mission.


rocket dinner


Tables were set up in the Space Race section of the Museum so under towering rockets, the Hubble Space Telescope, Skylab, and an Apollo-Soyuz Test Project among many other priceless space artifacts, we ate dinner.




The next day, Joe and his crew along with a handful of Stardusters all boarded a bus and headed out to American's Hanger, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center which is the companion to the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. Our formal tour guide was yet another SR-71 pilot named Buzz Carpenter. A special tour had been arranged for us, and what better tour guide than someone who had flew many of the ultra-high performance aircraft hanging around this hanger. But Joe had some amazing stories to add as well. Once, as we were standing in front of a F4 Phantom and a MIG-21, Buzz asked Joe if he'd flown a F4. Joe grinned and said "I got a thousand hours in them!" Then Buzz pointed to the MIG and said, "I bet you've seen these then."

"Seen them?" Joe grinned. "Hell, I shot one down!"

Later I asked Joe what it was like to be in a dogfight with a MIG and to be able to knock one out of the sky. He replied that it felt great. It was exactly what a fighter pilot was trained to do.

But shortly after Joe shot down the MIG, he himself was shot down and spent the next 11 months as a prisoner of war in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton."


bob and model


I picked up a metal SR-71 model for my son. I thought it would be a nice gesture to have Bob hold it so I could show the picture to my son. Then Bob went one step farther and signed the model.

Learning from this, Buzz Carpenter was also kind enough to sign another model of the SR-71, so I guess if we have two, we have a collection, right?




Prior to the trip, several of us had agreed to wander the Smithsonian's meteorite display. I was going to lead a tour of sorts, but with Don Brownlee around, one could not imagine a better guide through the meteorites.




CAIs have a new meaning now that the Stardust sample return found them in comet particles. Don explained this in great detail using the Allende display for examples.




Talk about a celebrity! Not only did Don provide some astounding inside information about micrometeorites, the very specimens inside the display case held his name as the donor. Although I've traded meteorites with the Smithsonian, thus providing them with material they did not have, I would never expect to see my name on a display. Don just laughed about it.







This part of the journey began with a rather impressive invitation that arrived in the mail several weeks prior to the event. Inside were a handful of cards describing various aspects of the award's history and the events of trophy presentation. Also were brief descriptions of the winners. The picture shows the two awards announcements. Joe signed his, and the Stardust team signed the other one. The large blue signatures are Tom Duxbury and Don Brownlee.




Following the presentation of the Trophy, the dinner, and great conversation, what better way to end than to round out the night in the hotel bar.


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