HERE'S looking at you. In the shadow of a U-2 reconnaissance plane, the newest exhibition gallery at the Air & Space Museum is "Looking at Earth."
To put things in perspective, if you stand on a desert hilltop 30 feet high, you see dunes. The Goodyear Blimp 980 feet over Nantucket gives a bird's-eye view of an island. The view from Landsat, 570 miles up, takes in the boot of Italy and then some. GOES-I (also known as the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite, and you won't get out of this exhibit until you learn it) shows weather patterns over an entire ocean from 22,300 miles away. And Voyager I -- 7 1/2 million miles away -- turns the earth-moon system into an orange-plum still life.
Besides a number of satellite models on display, the most immediately accessible parts of this exhibit are two videotapes and a collection of aerial photographs. A film about U-2 spying missions leaves us with the sobering thought that we rarely know who does what when, and why in that area of recent history. The other videotape, "Willard's Weather Watch," provides a light touch to science for the Willard Scott fans in the audience.
Aerial photos are used for everything from topographic studies to weather analysis to just plain gee-whiz. From cameras carried by pigeons, overhead photography has become so sophisticated that it's used to locate archaeological sites. An ancient Mayan ruin was found recently in southern Mexico after photos revealed areas where jungle vegetation had been disturbed.
Space shuttle astronauts have taken some of the most dizzying and dazzling color aerial photographs. The museum has put together a special exhibit of them in the Flight and the Arts Gallery. In the same gallery is "Earth Views," which displays the winning entries to a contest held in conjunction with the opening of the "Looking at Earth" gallery.
LOOKING AT EARTH -- At the Air & Space Museum, indefinitely. EARTH VIEWS -- At the Air & Space Museum through May 1987.