One of the best exhibits at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center (an outpost of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, just outside Dulles airport) was the Discovery space shuttle.
I'd always imagined a space shuttle like this - which I'd seen only on TV, and always attached to the much larger launch rockets - as a little capsule just big enough for half a dozen astronauts to squeeze into. But this thing... it's big. It's really, really big. A single landing wheel is easily the height of a child.
Aside from just the massive, incredible scale of the shuttle, perhaps the most intriguing thing to me was its panel construction. The panels were an irregular bunch, not giving the impression of precision engineering one usually associates with rocket science. Around the nose these were small patches of metal. Towards the back, though, larger panels looked like fabric quilts plastered on to the hull in papier-mache style. In places, the panels bore printed instructions on how to cut the shuttle apart in case of an emergency.
Just being in the same room as this magnificent giant made me feel like a gnat, while providing a very physical reminder of what other little gnats like me have achieved by way of science and technology. I do hope that something comes of all the recent talk of a Mars mission (whether publicly or privately funded), because I think the excitement of space travel can only help get more kids studying scientific subjects. But while we're waiting for that, it was certainly fun to wander around the hangar and reflect on past glories.