Time TravelBy Chris Landers
Published: October/November 2013
The Smithsonian explores the challenges of getting from here to there. It's about ... time! Boaters, reliant on the extraordinary navigation aids of the modern world, will find this new exhibit fascinating.
Photo: Folger Shakespeare Library
The Mariner's Mirrour, by Dutch author Lucas J. Waghenaer, was the first ever
"Sea Atlas." Look carefully at its detailed images, and you'll discover
a treasure trove of 15th-century navigation instruments.
To get to the new "Time and Navigation" exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., you must first navigate to the National Air and Space Museum. Go up the escalator, pass the excited throngs of high-fiving young fellow navigators on school trips, and choose the door between the engineering model of the spacecraft Clementine and a Tomahawk cruise missile. Walk through that door, and you enter a world of sea and air navigation through time, a compelling interactive exhibit of the people, voyages, and most importantly the instruments that made your remarkable journey possible.
William Cranch Bond, a 23-year-old Boston clockmaker, made this chronometer during the War of 1812. It was the first American-made marine timekeeper taken to sea.
This sextant, invented in the 18th century by British mathematical instrument makers, permitted mariners to find their position better than ever before. It became the most essential instrument for celestial navigation, used to find the angle of a celestial body above the horizon.
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To determine position in space, Apollo astronauts located a specific star using a single-power, wide-field telescope and then took a fix using ... a sextant! While this instrument may not look like a traditional sextant, the basic procedure is descended from centuries-old methods used by navigators at sea and in the air.
Capt. L. C. Bygrave developed this slide rule for celestial navigation shortly after World War I, speeding up celestial computations.