Connor is a curator of the new Time and Navigation exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The exhibit explores the ways that navigators kept track of time throughout history, from 17th-century sea navigation to air travel and today's global-positioning system. The permanent exhibit, which was created in collaboration with the National Museum of American History, opens Friday.
Is navigation always related to our ability to keep track of time accurately?
It is. There are ways of -- for instance, the Vikings and Polynesians were able to find their way without having accurate clocks. So, yes, it is possible in certain ways to be able to measure position, but generally it's a lot harder and a lot less accurate if you don't have the clock. The one really key thing in being able to get around the world well is an accurate clock.
Do you have a personal favorite object in the exhibit?
One of my favorite objects is something that was popularly known as R2-D2, for obvious reasons. It's a big white box, kind of a bulky, odd-looking thing. ... It sat behind the crew members of the SR-71 Blackbird, and it allowed them to navigate much the same way that the sailors at sea did, using basically observations of the stars. So this kind of looked at the stars and used an accurate clock, but it did it traveling over 2,200 mph, and it could do it at accuracies that aren't all that much worse than GPS.
What are you hoping visitors take away from this exhibit?
We hope that visitors understand that there's really a lot behind the curtain, that when you're on an airplane or even using your cellphone to get around, there are all sorts of amazing stories of invention and discovery that have gone into making that possible.
-- April Burbank