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VCU Archaeology

In Space No One Can Hear You Scan

by Bernard K. Means, Director

Lauren Volkers and Bernard K. Means stand in front of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Lauren Volkers and Bernard K. Means stand in front of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

On April 1, 2014, I received a communication from Lisa Young, Objects Conservator for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum about an urgent 3D scanning need—the objects, brackets from the Space Shuttle Discovery.  I informed my lab staff and the students in my Archaeological Methods and Research Design that I would not be in the next day so I could 3D scan Space Shuttle parts—it took repeated statements from myself to convince them that this was not an April Fool’s joke.

Lauren in front of the Space Shuttle Discovery

Lauren in front of the Space Shuttle Discovery

The next morning I traveled to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum accompanied by Digital Curation Specialist Lauren Volkers.  Shortly after our arrival, we were presented with three aluminum brackets that had been removed on a short-term basis from the cabin of the Space Shuttle Discovery, which is normally kept closed.  Replicas of the brackets were needed for the Space Shuttle Endeavour, for its display in a vertical position at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California.  These particular brackets are no longer being manufactured, so 3D scanning and subsequent replication are a cost-effective way to reproduce the brackets.

Lauren described the 3D scanning process.

Lauren described the 3D scanning process.

Lauren and I spent the day scanning the 3D brackets, which we coated with a white powder to ease scanning of these reflective objects.  During each scanning episode, we toured the wonderful exhibits in the spacious museum.

Preparing a bracket for scanning.

Preparing a bracket for scanning.

At the end of the day, as we were preparing to leave, Lauren and I were invited to see the interior of the cabin of the Space Shuttle Discovery.  We stayed on the edge of the hatch, which was covered with a protective mat.  Dennis Jenkins of the California Science Museum was kind enough to orient both of us to the interior of the Discovery, and also to take pictures of each of us, as well as the brackets after they were put back into their original positions—accompanied with a card depicting the Virtual Curation Laboratory’s logo.

Image courtesy of Dennis Jenkins/California Science Museum

Image courtesy of Dennis Jenkins/California Science Museum

Image courtesy of Dennis Jenkins/California Science Museum

Image courtesy of Dennis Jenkins/California Science Museum

One of the brackets has been fully edited, and editing of the other two is ongoing.  We certainly enjoyed participating in this project and look forward to further partnerships with the researchers and conservators at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

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