Cambridge, Massachusetts – August 2019 – Insider Tour of MIT

I am fortunate enough to know someone who has spent considerable time at MIT, and she was kind enough to show us around to sights on campus that most visitors don’t realize is there to be seen.

We started out with some familiar sites; the Kresge Auditorium. Designed and completed in the mid 1950s by Eero Saarinen, it is an excellent example of mid-century modern.

Next door is a chapel, also designed by Saarinen.

The Rogers Building serves as the center of MIT. It’s atrium is beautiful.

The windows facing Mass Avenue are equally impressive.

The Frances Russell Hart Nautical Museum is tucked away on an upper floor of the main building. It contains a number of intricately designed model ships.

As you wander the halls you come across all sort of great sights.

While this might look like any other hallway at MIT, it is very special. It is known as the Infinite Hall, running the length of the main building and leading to a second building.

You have heard of Stonehenge, perhaps Manhattanhenge (a posting is available), and even Carhenge.

This otherwise nondescript hallway twice a year is the location of MITHenge – the sun shines straight through the entire distance, lighting up the floor. I need to come back in November!

The outdoor space is enhanced with sculptures. MIT is a very cool place, and thanks to an insider we saw some cool sights (all completely open to anyone, you just need to know where to look).

Huntsville, Alabama – May 2019 – Marshall Space Flight Center

The George C Marshall Space Flight Center is NASA’s largest complex, where rocketry and propulsion are researched and developed.

Tours are available with proper ID as it is located on Redstone Arsenal. The tour departs from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Museum via a NASA bus.

The administration building is where Werner Von Braun and others made space travel possible.

Most manufacturing companies have displays of their products at their corporate headquarters and NASA is no different, only theirs are far more interesting than others.

A display of 3 of the engines greet visitors to the building.

While most people think ‘Houston’ when it comes to NASA Mission Control in reality there are three – Houston, Kennedy Space Center in Florida for ‘Launch Control’, and Huntsville for ‘Payload Control’.

Within this building are the staff that manages the day to day workings on the International Space Station.

The lobby of the building have models of the ISS and an astronaut at work.

A commonly used expression throughout NASA are ‘racks’. Each rack of equipment has specific roles, and teams of engineers are responsible for their rack.

The Payload Operations Center was amazingly small given the critical nature of their work. Just a handful of people are monitoring and managing the effort.

The structures that support the testing of rockets during development are known as ‘stands’. This is likely the most famous stand in the history of rocket development – The Redstone Interim Test Stand.

It was built in 1953 for just $25,000 out of materials scavenged from around the arsenal. They had to do it this way because the government wouldn’t give them any more money than that.

A total of 362 static rocket tests were completed here. Their budget was so low they took railroad tank cars that had been used to transport chemicals – cleaned them and buried them 300′ away from the test stand for their bunker to monitor the tests from.

Nearby you could see some of the much larger, much more expensive newer test stands.

One of the biggest challenges in long duration space flight is water. Because humans need water to survive, they had to come up with a way to conserve water in many ways one would not expect.

They have developed systems to recycle urine and washing water onboard that result in potable water.

The system is held in these three racks. The rotating distillation unit separate liquid from gases, then is sent to another unit for solid removals before the liquid go through a number of filtration’s that remove micro organisms.

They continue to research and develop even more efficient units, and the men’s room has a special urinal that they collect samples from for further testing – so I contributed to science.

As we rode around the complex we passed a number of interesting structures including this small, but very long wind tunnel.

Our final stop was the rocket park where they have examples of the various rockets used in space travel over the years.

While the museum portion was interesting, the additional tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center was by far the best part of the day.

Washington DC – June 2018 – Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is the most visited Natural History Museum in the world. With over 1.5 million square feet of space and 126 million specimens it is the authoritative view on natural history.

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The Hall of Mammals has an extensive collection.

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A map of the world has the population ‘clock’ that constantly updates.

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The Hall of Human Origins has a collection of sculptures of humans over time.

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The Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals has a number of impressive pieces.

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Finally we toured the Ocean Hall.

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Seattle – September 2017 – Museum of Pop Art

The Museum of Pop Art in Seattle started life as a tribute to Jimi Hendrix by Paul Allen, one of the founders of Microsoft. Recently they rebranded themselves and have some nice other exhibits.


The guitar collection was amazing.

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The Hendrix area

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A large area for sci-fi

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Pittsburgh – July 2017 – Carnegie Science Center

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The Carnegie Science Center, like most science centers, is geared towards children, but with an excellent railway model of the highlights of Pittsburgh I wanted to check it out.

An added bonus was the Robot Hall of Fame, as well as a submarine docked on the banks of the Ohio River!

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An interesting display showing the stress high heel shoes put on a woman’s ankle and foot.

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Forbes Field

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Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

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Danger Will Robinson….

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Cincinnati – June 2017 – Observatory

The Cincinnati Observatory is located on the aptly named Mount Lookout. As one of the oldest observatories in the country, they feature two fantastic telescopes. A visit to the Observatory is highly recommended.

The main building has a 1904 Alvan Clark & Sons 16″ refractor telescope. The docent who took us up to the telescope allowed us to open the large metal roof with amazing ease with the rope and gears. Once open we spun the telescope over so we could look into the lens.

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The second building houses what is thought to be the oldest continually used telescope in the world, a 1945 wooden and metal Merz and Mahler 11″ refractor scope. While not as functional as new ones, you will not find a more beautiful telescope!

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Columbus – December 2015 – COSI and a Tour of Unique Downtown buildings

The last vacation of the day brought us downtown to see a few places that are always closed on weekends, plus visit one that is usually too crowded with kids on weekends.

The Ohio Supreme Court building on Front Street was built in the 1930s in a classic Art Deco style, and the interior still is a very nice example of this period. The early-1930s-era building, which features an art deco main concourse and a lavishly painted and decorated courtroom, we repurposed in 2004 for the Supreme Court.

Once you pass through security you are greeted with marble floors, ornate grill work on the heating vents, and soaring concourses that bring you to the elevators with their raised reliefs. The main courtroom off of this concourse is stunning in it’s ornateness. The ceiling has a number of murals in what appear to gold flaked frames, complimented by the Frank Lloyd Wright looking lights. Even the water fountains are stunning, formed out of granite with ‘OHIO’ carved above.

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The stairwells have additional murals out of tile. Once on the lower level you are greeted by a ceiling that has more tile artwork. The lower level also houses a small museum detailing government in Ohio, and how the legal branch works within.

We took the elevator to the 11th floor law library, primarily for the views out of the windows of downtown, the riverfront and COSI, but were pleasantly surprised to see this floor, while not as ornate as the lobby, was still impressive with the wooden ceilings and tasteful carpets. Also present for the season was a 10′ ‘Christmas tree’ made out of law books. After admiring the views out the windows we headed on with the solid belief that this building is truly a hidden treasure of Columbus.

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A block away is the Vern Riffe State Office Tower, a 503′ tower built in 1988. We were able to go to one of the upper floors that had public areas, but the windows we could get to were small, and with the overcast day provided little in photography opportunities, so we returned to the lobby where there is a small art gallery. The eclectic exhibit contained pieces made out of material such as networking cable and other non tradition items.

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We moved on to the former Lazarus Department Store building, now the home of a number of entities including the Ohio State University Urban Arts Center. They too had an eclectic collection, including a bunch of sculptures of monkey heads hanging  in rope baskets from the ceiling.

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Our next stop was COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, located in the former Central High School building on the west bank of the Scioto River. As with most places like this they are usually filled with kids, but we chose a weekday that school was out of session for the holidays so it was very quiet.

The first display was showing the use of electricity in every day life. Next door was – a Lego display – keeping with our winter tradition. COSI’s display had famous landmarks of the world; San Francisco Cable Car, a Zeppelin, Space Shuttle, a 747, the Queen Mary ship, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Big Ben, and more.

On the upper level we found a very nice display on the human body with many interactive exhibits including a display of the formation of a baby. The lower level had Main Street USA, an exhibit that COSI has had for almost 50 years, with the fake store fronts, a pay phone (!), and numerous neon signs. A collection of giant butterflies made out of various materials, including old license plates, lined the hallway outside.

Finally there was a display of industry in Ohio illustrating the aviation contributions Columbus has made.

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As we left COSI I walked over to a building I have long admired, the former Toledo and Central Ohio Railway station. The building was built with a Japanese inspiration (complete with pagoda) with an Art Nouveau twist. When it was built it was next door to a hotel, the Macklin, that had been built in the same style. Unfortunately the Macklin was torn down in the 1950s.

Not long after it was built the railroad was raised and the street level lowered so an underpass could be built, which exists to this day, essentially blocking the view of the building from the west. As we were checking the building out from the outside someone opened the door and asked if he could help us. When I explained we loved the building and was just taking some photos, he invited us in.

It turns out after the building was abandoned and damaged by fire the (ironically) firefighters union obtain ownership, and with the assistance of a grant, restore the building. The interior is interesting, but overwhelmed by the exterior to the extent it makes the interior seem somewhat bland. Having had a very full December day we headed home.

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Columbus – August 2015 – Ohio History Center

The Ohio History Center Museum, located on 17th Avenue across the street from the State Fairgrounds, is filled with exhibits exploring everything from life in the 1950s to extinct and endangered Ohio species to an exquisite collection of restored Civil War battle flags.

At the History Center Museum is Ohio Village, a recreated 1860s Ohio town. Open only during the summer I wanted to visit it before we left on vacation

The 22 buildings that make up the village are a mixture of reproductions and historic structures moved to the site. Among those currently standing are the Town Hall, Print Shop, General Store and Masonic Lodge, Education Center, Pharmacy, Blacksmith Shop, Tinsmith Shop, Broom and Basket Shop, Cabinetmaker/Undertaker’s Shop, Harnessmaker’s and Weaver’s shops, Ladies’ Soldiers Aid Society, Village Bakery, Market House, Livery Stable, Schoolhouse, Doctor’s Office and Residence, the Ohio Village Bank, the Colonel Crawford Inn, Church and the Elk’s Head Tavern.

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The museum itself had a number of exhibits including the “1950s through the eyes of a family” living in central Ohio with a hands-on, walk through of their Lustron home. Step back in time as you explore the nooks and crannies, cupboards and drawers of the family’s real, full-size Lustron house, built right inside our museum

Featured in the same area were tributes to noteworthy Ohio products and companies, including airplanes, automobiles, tires, and White Castle. The history of White Castle, America’s first hamburger chain, is celebrated in this panel exhibit. Visitors get a taste of artifacts and images from White Castle’s 85-year history, nearly all of it as a Columbus-based company. Items on display include plates and mugs, fountain glassware, posters, burger boxes, matchbooks, employee recognition pins, paper caps for men and women, sacks and a White Castle “clock” that has no hands because “we’re open all day and all night.”

Another section featured some of the Society’s most significant archaeological artifacts, such as the Adena Pipe, the mica hand, and the Wray figurine, as well as many animal effigy pipes from Tremper Mound are centrally featured in tower cases. Fiber optic lighting enhances visitors’ almost 360- degree view of these, and other, unique and beautiful artifacts. We were able to explore multiple artifact drawers to see what the ancient people used on a daily basis, as well as for special purposes.

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All in all the Ohio History Center Museum is a nice way to spend the day, although the Ohio Village needs some serious work and upkeep.