News Column

Aiming high: Linthicum electronics museum exhibit focuses on satellites

July 29, 2014

By Theresa Winslow, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.



July 29--One looks like a blue and white model of the Death Star from "Star Wars."

The antenna from another resembles a metallic honeycomb.

But the satellite that most intrigues Mike Simons is a nondescript 2-foot-long silver cylinder. It's a prototype dating to the early 1950s -- before Sputnick and Telstar.

Called MOUSE (Minimum Orbital Unmanned Satellite Earth), it was proposed by a University of Maryland physicist in 1953.

"It was an interesting attempt at a satellite that could have beat the Soviets to space," said Simons, director of the National Electronics Museum in Linthicum.

The museum is displaying models of MOUSE, as well as Telstar and other pioneering satellites, in hopes of spurring interest -- and additional money -- for what is intended to be a permanent exhibit next summer.

"We've just been putting things in there as we get them," Simons said.

The $600,000 exhibit is the largest project in the 40-year history of the facility.

The museum received $200,000 from the state last year and has matched that through corporate and private donations, Simons said.

The final third of the money still has to be raised, but he's confident the exhibit will open on time. The costs are mostly in design, since the satellite items are donated.

"Satellites: Transforming Our Lives" will be in a 36-by-36-foot hall and focuses on commercial applications of the orbiting objects, rather than NASA exploration.

The exhibit will include solar panels and other pieces of actual satellites, models of several others, informational panels and a video. "People will get a real sense of how they're constructed," Simons said.

The purpose is to show how pervasive satellites are in the world.

"We all remember when we had to rely on maps," Simons said. "We don't need to do that anymore."

Satellites are involved with everything from GPS technology to weather surveillance. Stock trades and even time is dependent on them.

"We take them for granted," said Andrew Petitti of Alexandria, Va., one of the designers on the project. "At this point in our society we couldn't function without them."

Museum visitors already are impressed.

Anthony Wise of Accokeek studied a phase array antenna from a satellite on a museum visit last week.

"It's really amazing, they go from the development of electronics to stuff like this."

Two of the models in the finished exhibit will be a globe with orbiting satellites that will hang from a wall, and a 30-foot-long satellite hanging from the ceiling, Petitti said.

The project is "a blast" to work on, but also challenging because it incorporates aspects of graphic design, architecture, furniture design, lighting and engineering, he said. The objective is to have an exhibit that is engaging and educational.

"They have an interesting museum up there," Petitti said. "We're hoping the satellite exhibit gets them some more attention."

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(c)2014 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

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Source: Capital (Annapolis, MD)


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