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Zoe P. Strassfield

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Space History in DC -- Better the Second Time

Posted: 07/29/11 10:36 AM ET

Events of June 29, 2011

Between the 11 hours on my first weekend, various visits after work, and coming after-hours to see the Glenn lecture, the National Air and Space Museum now felt like familiar territory. So after work one fine Wednesday, I decided to check out what my boss Mr. Cabbage said was another "don't miss" space site on the National Mall- the meteorite collection at the National Museum of Natural History.

Now, even though I was there to see the meteorites, I went to the dinosaur hall first. Because that's just how it is. When you go to a natural history museum, you HAVE to go see the dinosaurs first. Being from New York, I obviously have high expectations when it comes to those kind of displays, but I have to say that while there aren't that many actual dinosaurs on display, the exhibits on prehistoric flying and marine reptiles are some of the best I've ever seen.

One of the things I most wanted to see in the museum was the Tower of Time mural showing the evolution of life on Earth that several of my science teachers have had posters of in their classrooms over the years. What always stuck with me was the final image of the mural- three human faces beneath a view of the Earth as seen from space. Did the artist choose that image to suggest that humans are the first species to realize the Earth is a planet in space? To show that now humans travel into space and take the evolutionary story to new settings? To underscore the fact that humans are now responsible for protecting the Earth and all the life that has evolved there? I like to think it's all three.

After the fossil halls, I headed up to the second floor to see the geology exhibits like I'd come for. The big star of the Smithsonian's geology exhibits, as most people know, is the Hope Diamond. (Contrary to popular belief, the diamond is named for one of its owners, Henry Phillip Hope, rather than the emotion.)

I'd already seen the Hope on my 8th grade class' trip to Washington, and I'd seen the similar Wittelsbach-Graff diamond when it was on display at in New York last year, so when I entered the "Earth's Treasures" gallery where it's displayed, I took my time walking around looking at everything else first. And I was glad I did, because the other "treasures" were amazing. So I took my time enjoying and photographing those before I finally turned to the Hope.

Since I'd seen it before, I knew that while the Hope Diamond is rather big for a cut diamond, and especially for a rare blue diamond, it's not as big as most people imagine it will be- it's about the size of a walnut. (Not to fret, there ARE baseball- and softball-sized diamonds elsewhere in the gem halls.) So since I went in thinking "It's small" and not "It's big", the diamond actually seemed a little bigger than I remembered! (Maybe that had to do with the stylish new setting.)

Conclusion: The Hope Diamond is better the second time.