The Relics of Science: Sunken Shipwrecks, Dated Gadgets, and Final Spaceflights

Friday, June 24, 2011
Geek paradise: 100 multimedia stations in the newly renovated Computer History Museum
Mark Richards/Courtesy the Computer History Museum

Visit the ancestors of your gear

Many of us are thrilled to ditch last year’s tech for the latest must-have gizmo. But Gordon Bell, an early employee of the computer maker Digital Equipment Corporation, hated to see obsolete computers sent to the scrap heap. Bell’s personal collection—which includes a World War II–era Enigma encryption machine and a century-old hand-crank calculator—now forms the core of the most comprehensive trove of computer artifacts in the world, with more than 100,000 items and counting. Today you can visit this archive of our technological past at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, which reopened this past January following a two-year, $19 million makeover that resulted in the 19-gallery exhibition “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing.”

The exhibit tracks milestones in the progress of computational technology from the abacus to your smart phone. Check out a preserved chunk of Walker’s Wagon Wheel Bar, the legendary Silicon Valley hangout where engineers and investors once mingled as they launched the semiconductor industry; peek into unlabeled drawers for surprises related to the theme of each gallery; and try your hand at historic video games, including the 1972 classic Pong. Other gems include an Apple 1 computer (complete with wooden casing), an original Google server, and the first disk drive, IBM’s 1956 Ramac: Bigger than a refrigerator, it boasts just enough memory to store a single MP3.
—Shannon Palus


Albert Einstein
The “Einstein at Home” exhibition at the Princeton Historical Society showcases a selection of the iconic physicist’s rarely seen furnishings, photos, and personal memorabilia including his pipe. On display through January 2012.

George Washington Carver
The George Washington Carver Museum in Tuskegee, Alabama, houses the agricultural scientist’s plant specimens and lab apparatus, as well as paintings, crochet, and other handicrafts he created in his spare time. Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri, commemorates the site where he was born.

Thomas Edison

At the Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, New Jersey, you can tour the lab complex where the inventor developed the phonograph and movie camera, and then take in the 29-room mansion where he lived for more than 40 years.

John Muir

In Martinez, California, visit the Muir family home and see the “scribble den” where the father of national parks formulated his influential arguments for wilderness preservation. During summer, enjoy fresh fruit from the estate’s orchards.
—Caroline Spivack


The best places to channel your inner rocket scientist

Virgin Galactic’s suborbital tourism flights may not make it to the launchpad in time for this year’s summer vacation, but there are plenty of places to commune with the cosmos from the comfort of Earth (and for less than $200,000). At the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, check out a real Apollo-era Saturn V test rocket—a behemoth longer than the Statue of Liberty is tall—plus crew capsules, space suits, parachutes, and a moon rock. Would-be astronauts with strong stomachs can try the Space Shot, which simulates a rocket launch complete with 4g acceleration.

To see rocket science in action, take a free tour of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Watch engineers assemble spacecraft in a clean room or peer down on mission control, where staff guide active missions, including the Mars rovers and the twin Voyager craft. The campus also features a museum, models, and monthly lectures.

In Florida, you can witness space history in the making at the last shuttle launch. Atlantis is slated to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center on July 8. Enter a lottery to purchase tickets for the launch site ( or see for a list of free off-site vantage points. Just make sure you arrive hours before countdown to grab a good spot.
—Sarah Stanley


The Romance of Ants,”  an exhibition at Chicago’s Field Museum, traces myrmecologist Corrie Moreau’s life among ants through photos and graphic-novel-style illustration. Through Jan. 1, 2012.

Insectropolis: The Bugseum of New Jersey  houses 13 kid-friendly exhibits examining insect communication, metamorphosis, and survival tactics. Our favorite resident: a fish-eating beetle.

The Audubon Insectarium  offers close encounters in the Butterfly Garden. If you get peckish, try 
Bug Appétit, where bug chefs prepare delectable dishes containing 
tasty, nutritious insects for your enjoyment.
—Will Hunt

With 30-foot limestone spires dotting its shores, 70-square-mile Mono Lake just outside Yosemite National Park could pass for an extraterrestrial landscape. More than twice as salty as the ocean, Mono Lake’s arsenic-laced 
waters support a vibrant ecosystem that is home to some bizarre earthlings. Bacteria here not only can consume arsenic but—if a hotly debated finding from December holds up—may even be able to incorporate the toxin into their DNA in place of phosphorus.

The neighboring Mono Craters are among the continent’s youngest volcanoes, thrust up beginning around 40,000 years ago, while the lake itself may be more than a million years old. A layer of ash buried in the underlying sediment confirms that Mono Lake predates a volcanic blast 760,000 years ago that created the nearby and still-active Long Valley Caldera.

Visitors can kayak or go for an extrabuoyant swim—the trace levels of arsenic are not high enough to pose a health risk, though the state parks department recommends keeping the hypersaline water out of eyes and open wounds. Walk or row up to the otherworldly tufa towers—formed underwater by the mixing of calcium-rich freshwater springs with dissolved carbonates in the lake—or watch thousands of migratory birds feast on flies and brine shrimp. You can also hike the shore, take 
naturalist-led tours, and soak up seminars on hydrology.
—Sarah Stanley

The remains of the City of Washington which sank near Key Largo in 1917.
Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary


Grab your fedora and discover hidden history

Dive a ship graveyard
For underwater adventure, head to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Shipwreck Trail, where you can snorkel and dive on the sites of nine wrecks. The subsurface trail takes you past a Spanish treasure ship lost in a 1733 hurricane, a decommissioned Coast Guard cutter intentionally sunk as an artificial reef in 1985, and a transport ship that served in the Spanish-American War. Today the wrecks enjoy a second life as artificial reefs, attracting corals, algae, rays, eels, and tropical fish (including the critically endangered 800-pound goliath grouper).

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron in Michigan offers another impressive collection of doomed vessels. More than 50 shipwrecks—such as an early 19th-century side-wheeler that broke up on a reef and a freighter that sank in a 1907 storm—lie perfectly preserved in the cold freshwater. Kayak, snorkel, or dive the wrecks before heading ashore to the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, where you can test your mettle in a simulated storm aboard a full-scale replica of a schooner’s stern.

Explore an ancient desert city
For 300 years the Chacoan culture of the ancestral Pueblo peoples thrived in the Four Corners region of the Southwest. The main center of the sophisticated civilization was a group of 12 stone complexes that today are preserved in the remote Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico. To get to the site, you have to drive over 13 miles of dirt road, but petroglyphs and masonry architecture dating from A.D. 850 to 1150 make it well worth the trip. The park also features a campground and 20 miles of hiking trails.

If the visit inspires your inner archaeologist, piece together the Pueblo past at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in southwestern Colorado. Stop by for a day tour or excavate alongside professional archaeologists during weeklong programs for adults, families (kids 10 and up), and teenagers.
—Shannon Palus

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