The Geographic people call it "headquarters." It is a self-sufficient mini-state occupying half a city block on M Street NW between 16th and 17th streets. It houses 1,231 employes and has its own machine shop, car mechanics, security system, travel office, gardener and German pastry chef.

The three Geographic buildings contain about half a million square feet of office space. The newest cost $45 million and contains, among other things, 3,000 square feet of vaults for film storage. Within the total complex, in addition to editorial and illustration offices, are a printing shop, an advanced color lab capable of producing life-size reproductions of Leonardo's "Last Supper," a camera repair shop, a $1.25 million computer used in cartography, a bookstore, an auditorium equipped with sophisticated audio-visual equipment, four libraries and a reading room open to the public.

About every three months the small museum staff changes exhibits in Explorers Hall, which last year attracted 240,000 visitors.

One copy of National Geographic magazine, the ultimate whole Earth catalogue, weighs a pound. It costs about $10 million to produce the magazine each month. The production logistics are daunting. It's printed in Corinth, Miss., and is sent to the more than 10 million members of the National Geographic Society.