Today was a day of really awesome stops and very stressful driving in between. Most of our drive from Pennsylvania to Maryland was okay, but our first stop was the National Cryptologic Museum, which was more difficult to find than I had anticipated. We’ve relied heavily on my AAA TripTik for directions, which has worked well most of the time.
But not today. It failed us on more than one occasion. First, it told me to get off at the NSA exit, and in reality, that exit is just for employees. So I got off at the next exit, hoping there would be a sign for the museum. Nope. So I looked on the map that I’d saved from the museum website, and tried to navigate there myself. Somehow we still ended up at the NSA. The very official, professional, and friendly guy at the gate directed me off to the side to another guy standing by a very official looking government black Suburban who (the guy, not the Suburban) gave me detailed directions on how to actually get to the museum. If getting to the museum was an IQ test, I failed once and passed once, but I blame AAA and the fact that I can’t read maps and drive at the same time.
Finally arriving at the small but interesting museum, it was neat to see everything there (and it was free). It is designed to showcase important items from the history of secret and not-so-secret codes, from the Rosetta Stone to modern day computers. Most of what is there is related to the military, since they are the ones most in need of secret codes, so wars like the Civil War, World War I, World War II (including the Navajo Code Talkers), Vietnam, and the Cold War are well-covered. But there were plenty of other topics such as hobo codes and language deciphering, and there are special exhibits on women’s contributions to the NSA and those of African-Americans as well. NSA agents that have been lost in the line of duty are also remembered.
The place is filled with things of interest to adults, but to keep the kids entertained, they have set up little stations around the museum for kids to decode answers to questions while the adults peruse the exhibits. This worked well for us for a little while, until my son got too frustrated with the decoding. Not the decoding itself, mind you. That was cake. It was the small amount of room given to write the answers, and the troublesome decoder disk. So the kids got 8 out of 14 done before we needed to leave. That was enough to each get a couple of museum pencils and a neat puzzle game, though.
After only one wrong turn, we made it back on the road going in the right direction to visit GeekDad Brian McLaughlin and his lovely wife, GeekMom Helene McLaughlin, at NASA’s Goddard Space Center. Holy cow, we went to NASA! Brian met us at the front gate and we got visitors’ passes. Then he had to stay with us and escort us everywhere in the buildings we visited. We first saw where they do much work with Hubble, and later saw some progress made on the new James Webb space telescope. We saw a huge centrifuge, vacuum chambers, clean rooms, gigantic rooms in general, control rooms, and just awesome space-related stuff. Through it all, Brian gave us the info on what we were seeing, and a bit of information on what he’d worked on in the past and what kinds of things he might get to do in the future. He also answered all of the questions I had. It was so exciting to me to be at NASA, and to see real science at work. I’ve mostly only seen NASA things in museums, and this was fantastic to actually be there and see things that would be up in space one day soon. I asked Brian if the novelty of working at NASA ever wore off. He’s been at it for ten years now, and he said it hasn’t worn off for him. I know that’s how it would be for me, too.
Most of what we were seeing was lost on the kids, but my daughter really loves astronomy and so did appreciate much of it. I am so thankful to Brian for taking the time to give us the tour and hang out with us. I’m always inspired to be around people doing astronomy and astronomy-related work. But let’s make sure the government keeps up the funding! It’s not all about exploring the stars. Much of it is also studying our own planet. And plus, a lot of the technologies and advances created in the name of NASA and astronomy is directly applicable to other fields. NASA is advancing science as a whole, and always has.
After the tour, we headed to Virginia to stay with my friend Jess, who also writes for GeekMom! So that’s three GeekEmpire people seen in one day. But, again, the AAA directions guided me through DC instead of around it (this is what I get for using an automated direction thingy instead of doing it myself), and I never was familiar enough with that particular quadrant of the DC area to wing it without an actual DC map, so we made the tough decision to just follow the directions anyway. And then they guided us to go the wrong way on a one way street. So… yet another call to Ed who fortunately was available to guide me through the immensely complicated pattern that is DC to make our way to the relative sanity that is Arlington. Of course Arlington used to be a part of DC, but again, that’s where history stepped in during the Civil War and helped change the shapes of states (like West Virginia!). (And if I’m wrong on this one, the Arlington bit, pardon my misstep – it’s late and I just had to drive through DC today.. That will be my excuse for a while now. Wonder how long I can use it?)
Tomorrow starts my overplanned week and a half of museums, government buildings, and other attractions in DC and northern Virginia. Just in time for the 90 degree heat! Yay?
Drove: 150 miles.
States (and a District): Pennsylvania, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia.
Kids: The girl was great, the boy was more complain-y. Must find a way for him to not be complain-y, but I guess you can only expect so much patience and interest out of a seven year old.
Best Part of the Day: The tour of NASA! Thanks so much, Brian!
Worst Part of the Day: Driving through DC.
What I’ve Learned on the Trip: Always check your directions before leaving home to make sure they sound reasonable.
Total GeekDads and GeekMoms Visited: 8!