The Chrysler Museum of Art is taking one small step for photography, and one giant leap for the NASA Langley Research Center with their latest photography exhibition, Picturing Innovation: The First 100 Years at NASA Langley.
NASA’s Langley facility actually predates the name NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), having been initially opened by NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics). NACA, founded in 1915, was disestablished by the same federal statute that esablished NASA in 1958.
Picturing Innovation consists of over 100 photos that celebrate the achievements and innovations that have occurred at NASA Langley since its founding in 1917. It is a unique compilation of photographs that tell the history of the research center, and reveal the beauty of what has been accomplished there.
“They have become extraordinary images of achievements in science and innovation,” Lloyd DeWitt, Chief Curator of the Chrysler Museum of Art, said. “Many years ago we may have thought of them as technical, but now we consider them works of art.”
NASA Langley shared over one million photos with the Chrysler Museum. The exhibition’s curator, Seth Feman, was tasked with sifting through them and composing a coherent display that reflected the photos historical significance to NASA, as well as to photography.
“We are really looking at these images as part of the history of photography,” DeWitt said. “Most people don’t think of them that way because they’re made for science, but I think when you look at them, you realize they are super interesting and beautiful.”
These images were originally considered commercial photographs and were used for record-keeping, celebrating individuals and milestones, and promoting NASA to the government. They were not thought of as pieces of art or history until long after they were taken. For most of the images there is no record of the photographer either. Consequently, the images in the exhibition are not the original photographs, but scanned copies. NASA did not keep the originals, because they were not considered to add value to the center’s mission.
“We don’t know the photographers; they are kind of anonymous and they didn’t intend for their works to be put in museums,” DeWitt said. “But when we look at them, we think, ‘Wow! This is really an important part in the history of photography’.”
The exhibition has been broken up into themes, each one focusing on a separate project or achievement that occurred at NASA Langley. Some of the themes in the exhibition include flight safety, breaking the sound barrier, wind tunnels, and developing aerodynamic aircrafts “Langley has always been involved in cutting edge research – and still is,” DeWitt said. “Extraordinary things have happened at Langley.”
The research center developed the first plane to break the sound barrier, and the first winged aircraft to travel to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere. Astronauts have been trained at Langley, break through technologies were created there, and the center continues to conduct research on aeronautics and space.
Iconic moments and people from NASA’s history are captured in these photos. John H Glenn, the first man to orbit the earth, is photographed doing a training exercise in 1960. Katherine Johnson, one of NASA’s mathematical geniuses responsible for Glenn’s orbit of the earth, is also included in the exhibition.
“One of my favorites is of a technician making measurements on a scale model of the surface of the moon,” DeWitt said. “The moon landing was calculated at Langley, and they made these large spherical images of the moon that people could then work on to try to figure out landing sites.”
Along with pictures, the exhibition also includes artifacts from NASA Langley. An astronaut’s glove that has made the trip to space and back is included in the exhibit, along with a model wind tunnel and model of the interactive space station, among other objects.
An interactive Lunar Lounge, where visitors can learn about wind tunnels and space, is also part of the exhibition. This addition provides a fun interactive space for visitors of all ages to learn about the work of NASA Langley.
The museum is hosting an Out of this World Family Fun Day, Saturday Oct. 28 from 10 AM – 3 PM. The event will feature an appearance by retired astronaut Cady Coleman and her husband, glass artist Josh Simpson, along with a screening of the film Rocket Man, a family-friendly tour of the exhibition, snacks, face-painting, and more. There will also be a Gallery Talk about the exhibiltion on Friday Nov. 24 at 2 PM, led by former Chrysler Museum of Art intern Delaney Mitchell.
Picturing Innovation will be on display until March 11, 2018. The Chrysler Museum Of Art is located at One Memorial Place in Norfolk.
Cover Photo: A researcher inspects a Gemini spacecraft mounted on a sting in the 11-Inch Hypersonic Tunnel in 1962.
*All Photos Courtesy NASA Langley Research Center