Travel to space with next launch

NASA launch watched on TV in 2017. (Photo courtesy of NASA)
NASA launch watched on TV in 2017. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

When getting around the country by car and commercial air is challenging, consider a trip to the International Space Station via NASA links.

NASA is inviting the public to virtually experience #LaunchAmerica when astronauts Rober Behnken and Douglas Hurley fly the SpaceX’s Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. Lift-off is May 27.

You can find out what training and take off is like by clicking on NASA Gov/Specials/Virtual.

And you can get to knows Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley by clicking on YouTube/Watch.

Thoughts on Memorial Day

Chicago Memorial Day Parade on State Street. (City of Chicago photo)
Chicago Memorial Day Parade on State Street. (City of Chicago photo)

With so many events canceled and people staying home to be safe, we may barely note that Memorial Day Weekend is upon us. But some places such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon have procedures in place to again allow visitors and other destinations are planning to reopen. So with that in mind think of where you might want to go to recognize the meaning of Memorial Day.

The following article is a reprint of one I did for the Chicago Tribune when I was a regular contributor to Features and Travel. It is “Military Museums: Fit one into a long weekend or summer destination.”

Heads up vacationers, you know that Memorial Day, May 25 (in 2015), and not the Summer Solstice, June 21, marks the start of summer vacations. But Memorial Day really is a time to honor people who lost their life while serving in the United States armed forces.

As a long weekend or the start of a summer journey it’s a perfect time to visit military museums to find out more about wars in which the US was engaged, their eras, battle conditions, leaders and places. And it’s simpler than you may guess because military museums dot the US from California to Florida. They range from huge displays of lifelike dioramas to small gems of plane and vehicle-filled hangers. And they often are near vacation destinations. Here are just some of the places to put on your do now list.


Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL

If you have watched in wonder as the Navy’s Blue Angels have zoomed overhead during the Chicago Air and Water Show, you can see them up close inside a hanger at the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, FL and practicing outside.

But that wouldn’t be the only or even main reason to go there. Walk under and around a combat F-14D Tomkcat or a rare SBD Dauntless Bureau No. 2106 from the Battle of Midway. Glimpse the Western Front in a World War I diorama. Or see the replica of the WW II USS Cabot aircraft carrier’s Island and flight deck and go to its main deck to try the ship’s anti-aircraft gun battery. Memorial Day is also about people so look for vintage uniforms and memorabilia such as flight logs.

But don’t miss the Cubi Bar Café. Way more than a place to relax while touring the museum, the café replicates the mid-twentieth-century Cubi Point Officers’ Club that was in the Philippines. Known for its bar lined with squadron plaques started during the Vietnam War, the plaques here are the real ones sent to the museum when the Officers’ Club closed.

You will want a place to rest tired feet. The museum has 350,000 square feet of exhibits and covers 37 acres. NAS, as the base is known, dates from 1914. It handles Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard flight personnel. As museum historian Hill Goodspeed pointed out during a recent phone interview, it is an aviation museum but the people who serve are important. “You will see more than flying machines. Look beyond the machines and focus on the individuals in the cockpit. We have memorabilia, but really it’s about those who served of various ages, including those in their teens, who were and are willing to fly into a dangerous situation and serve in the military to protect our freedom,” Goodspeed said.

Lyon Air Museum, Santa Ana, CA

In contrast, the Lyon Air Museum, tucked into the Martin Aviation corner of John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, CA is tiny. At a mere 30,000 square feet, its planes, jeeps and memorabilia, mostly from WWII, are easy to slip in a sightseeing jaunt when visiting Orange County, CA’s Irvine area.

“Visitors who come here don’t feel rushed. They see how small we are so they feel they can take their time to really see what’s here,” said Museum President Mark Foster.

However, finding the museum is a challenge on the airport’s winding back roads unless you are persistent and the GPS is working. But once there you find a gem.

It’s not hard to find the B-17 Flying fortress used in the Pacific, a Douglas A-26 “Invader” or the B-25 “Mitchell,” named for General “Billy” Mitchell. The museum isn’t just a good place to visit for its machines and memorabilia, it’s the docents. Many of them are military retirees

“We get letters from visitors who say they spoke to someone who served in the same squadron or area as a grandfather,” Foster said. He added, “Talking with our docents is like finding old letters from a family member. You hear their stories.”

Retired USAF Major General William Lyon who flew during WWII and Korea founded the museum so current generations would have some idea of WWII era vehicles and battles and stories.

National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredricksburg, TX

Tourists coming to Fredericksburg, Texas for its very western look and shops, its nearby wine region and its abundant flower and peach fields will arguably be surprised to find a museum dedicated to the Pacific War and its veterans while walking down Main Street.

But Fredericksburg was where Admiral Chester Nimitz was born in 1885 and the congressional district that appointed him to the U.S. Naval Academy. A career naval officer, Nimitz was Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Fleet and of the Pacific Ocean Areas for U.S. and Allied sea, land and air forces during WW II.

The background is important because it was the Admiral Nimitz Foundation that set up a museum in the former Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg in 1971.

Today, that museum is one of several stunning places to visit on the National Museum of the Pacific War’s six acres. Stop in the Nimitz Museum to learn of the Admiral’s career and see the historic hotel.

Iin the 33,000 square foot George H. W. Bush Gallery, follow the battles and America’s involvement on the Pacific Front beginning with Japan’s mindset that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Walk outside to the Japanese Garden of Peace, a gift from the Japanese military to the U.S. in honor of Nimitz. Also outside, see plaques honoring Pacific War heroes that line the Memorial Courtyard’s limestone walls.

Be sure to visit the Plaza of Presidents made up of stone and bronze monuments to the 10 U.S. presidents who served during WWII. A separate program, the Pacific Combat Zone, re-enacts engagements in a field two blocks east of the museum campus.

National WW2 Museum, New Orleans, LA

When looking for a fascinating way to work off at least some of New Orleans’ famed cuisine, check out the National WW2 Museum, a 220,500 square foot campus in the former Warehouse District known now as the Arts District.

Opened on the 56th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2000 and affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, the building was called the D-Day Museum until the U.S. Congress officially designated it America’s National World War II Museum in 2003.

As with the Lyon Air Museum, the volunteers you encounter are likely to be war veterans. But you will need a good half day to experience this museum. Its galleries and movies cover all the fronts, from Home to Europe to the Pacific Islands in several pavilions and theaters.

The feeling of awe starts in the museum’ s multi-level atrium where you see a Douglas C-47 Skytrain and SBD Dauntless, a Supermarine Spitfire and Messerschmitt BF 109 hanging from the ceiling.

You are in the US Freedom Center: The Boeing Pavilion. While exploring the Boeing Pavilion do the “Final Mission: The USS Tang Submarine Experience.” Similarly to major Titanic exhibits, it assigns participants an actual name of someone on board. Learn at the end if your person was lost or captured by the Japanese.

You can see the planes from an observation deck on the third floor of the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. The original museum, the Louisiana Pavilion is the place to learn about Normandy and other beach landings.

Be sure to go to the new Campaigns of Courage Pavilion. Its “Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries” opened early 2015 with fantastic dioramas such as a blown-out German bunker and the forested “Battle of the Bulge” in the “Breaching the German Frontier” section.

Also look for a village and other scenes as the armed forces marched up the Italian boot. They are battle sites that have been recreated with bombed out roofs backed by the sounds of war and newsreels.

The remaining Courage Pavilion build out, “Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries,” opens in late 2015.

“It’s amazing,” said Owen Glendenning, associate vice president of education and access. “It’s immersive. It’s realistic and environmental. You can believe you are there,” said Glendenning.

Save time to see “Beyond All Boundaries, a 45 minute 4D film in the Solomon Victory Theater narrated by its executive producer, Tom Hanks. The movie takes you from battles to the Home Front using a variety of animation and sound effects. Personal accounts are read by Brad Pit, Gary Sinise and other celebrities.

For a recreation of USO style entertainment, think Bob Hope or the Andrew Sisters, try to catch a show at the Stage Door Canteen.

Perhaps the most forceful feature of the National WW2 Museum is the personal connection to people, places and time. Glendenning pointed out that the museum has four-full-time historians who are finding and recording personal stories of WWII veterans and their families. “It’s the compelling way we tell the story. It’s through personal narratives from citizen soldiers,” he said.

First Division Museum, Cantigny, Wheaton, IL

A visit to Cantigny Park, the estate that Robert R. McCormick’s will decreed as a public space after he died in 1955, is a delightful Chicago area destination. Its gardens and museums are particularly fun to browse from late spring to early fall. What Chicagoans, and indeed, out of town visitors are likely not to know is that Cantigny (pronounced Canteeny (silent g), is home to a terrific museum that honors the Big Red One, the nickname of the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division. BTW, the 1st Division celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2017.

Talk about you-are-there dioramas, at the First Division Museum you don’t walk by them, you enter them and are fully enveloped by sight and sound as you connect from trenches and beaches to jungles and sand while going from World War I to Desert Storm. The museum plans to add a section depicting contemporary conflicts.

“It’s very powerful and compelling,” said Exec Director Paul Herbert, discussing the museum’s depictions.

What he hopes visitors will take away though, is an appreciation for the high price paid by people who serve in the military.

“It’s not just Division One, but all who serve our country. “Our soldiers have paid a high price for our freedom over the years. We’re telling the story of everyone who serves to defend our democracy,” said Herbert.

Jodie Jacobs





Travel with a National Geographic slide show

Passing the Mendenhall Glacier and so many other glaciers on our spectacular cruise up Alaska’s Inside Passage. (J Jacobs photo)
Passing the Mendenhall Glacier and so many other glaciers on our spectacular cruise up Alaska’s Inside Passage. (J Jacobs photo)

Among the ways to travel now while staying at home to defeat the coronavirus is to visit our national parks. National Geographic has a slide show of many of our iconic parks with most photos by and copyrighted to Jonathan Irish.

Visit them at NationalGeographic/traveldestinations/United States/NationalParks.

Here is a sample of what to expect accompanied by editor commentary.

The slide show starts with Zion National Park at the south end of Utah just over the Arizona border and near Bryce Canyon National Park. There are challenging places to climb and interesting formations to photograph. Places to stay are in the nearby town of St. George in the Mojave Desert. For a closeup, visit the film “We the Keepers. ”

Further along in the slide show is the Bass Harbor Lighthouse in Acadia National Park.  A large island park accessible from mainland Maine, Acadia is interesting to drive around but a good place to headquarter is Bar Harbor. The town has delightful ma and pop stores and eateries. Arguably the best part of the visit may be a cruise that goes around the park to see its lighthouses, eagles and the coastline.

Of course Yosemite and the Grand Canyon are included in the slide show but you have likely traveled there or are planning to anyway. However, the slideshow is a way to learn about some national parks that may be less familiar.

So on to the Great Smoky Mountains, a “great” park for hiking, biking or driving. The park accommodates more than 1500 black bears. If when driving, cars stop ahead of you it is likely to be a bear jam not a traffic jam because mama bears take their cubs across park roads. Its  location across the states of Tennessee and North Carolina on the edge of I80 and US Highways 129 and 321 makes it is the most visited national park. To stay in the area consider the highly commercial but fun town of Pigeon Forge to see its Titanic exhibit or the artistic community of Gatlinburg that has one of the easy to drive Park Information Center entrances. The town also has an arts and craft studio circle drive.

American Indians talk about the power of mountains and the spirits that are in our natural landscapes but if you haven’t felt any, drive around Mount Rainier National Park. It may change how you feel. The park is southeast of Seattle if flying in and Tacoma is clloser if driving. We stayed in Seattle where we had some of the best Copper River King Salmon we’ve tasted with the exception of a town visited while traveling to Denali (Mount McKinley) in Alaska.

Glacier Bay National Park, in Alaska Is different from Glacier National Park in Montana, so don’t get confused. You may have to visit really soon or revisit because the glaciers are rapidly shrinking due to earth’s warmer weather. But if having to make a choice go to Alaska. The area is worth the trip. You may have heard that Alaska is gorgeous. But unless you fly over it and tour what you don’t realize how spectacular the scenery really is.

The national parks offer wonderful vistas and experiences so travelers mayh have their favorites. It is hard to say you must go here because they amake good sightseeing trips. That said., I found Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado west of Durango to be among the most interesting. When I went several years ago the road was challenging and I had to climb ladders. But it is a memorable look into the world of another culture.


Travel to aTitanic and Game of Thrones destination


Titanic Belfast in Northern Ireland's capital. (Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland)
Titanic Belfast in Northern Ireland’s capital. (Photo courtesy of Tourism Ireland)

t’s OK to dream of where we want to go when we can safely travel again. With that idea in mind, Tourism Ireland has come out with tempting scenes of go-to places just waiting for us when we land on the Emerald Isle.

A “stay at home and stay on board” video takes you on board the Titanic Belfast, a giant, amazing ship-style structure that seems to pull you into its hold. Inside you learn about the town of Belfast, its shipyards and, of course, the RMS Titanic.

A Game of Thrones video with its Belfast-ties shows off intricately carved doors and beautifully stained glass windows of some of the mega-hit’s special scenes and characters.

Another video takes you to the charming city of Limerick. It convinced me to add it to my go-to stops when I can visit Ireland.

Where do you want to go when we can start traveling again?
Where do you want to go when we can start traveling again? (J Jacobs photo)

Until we can safely do more than drive to our local grocery store, walk the dog and do curbside pick-up or door-to-door delivery, it’s nice to start thinking of places we hope to go.

See last supermoon of the year


Supermoon seen in Chicago. ( J Jacobs photo)
Supermoon seen in Chicago. ( J Jacobs photo)

Often called the Flower Moon or the Planting Moon, the early May moon appearing May 7 will be the last of the full supermoons in 2020. Best time to see it is at 5:45 a.m. CT. It will also seem at its full super size the next day.

There was one in March and one in April. Now comes the third and last one. The reason full is used before the term supermoon is because the orbits of some new moons also go close to Earth making them super in size if you saw them.

But the moon in its new phase doesn’t reflect the sun. So to enjoy a moon that appears super-sized because it is close to Earth you have to watch for it in its full phase when it fully reflects the sun.

Supermoon is a name given to our moon when it is within 90 percent of its closet approach to earth. The closeness does make it seem super sized but that is an illusion.

To find more background information check these two resources: NASA/full moon supermoon and EarthSky/full supermoon.


Catch the Lyrids streaking across the sky


Meteor showers happen when Earth is in a comet's orbital path and comet debris fly across the sky. (NASA photo)
Meteor showers happen when Earth is in a comet’s orbital path and comet debris fly across the sky. (NASA photo)

Instead of merely staying inside late tonight or tomorrow night (actually very early Tuesday or Wednesday morning), find a spot outside your abode to catch the Lyrid meteor shower while it peaks April 21-22, 2020.

Meteor enthusiasts have been watching the Lyrids for centuries. Among the oldest recorded meteor shower, it was supposedly first noticed 2,900 years ago.

The timing this year is perfect because the moon won’t be interfering as it is in its new phase April 20 and will be just a thin crescent April 22.

Most sky watching sites suggest dressing warm and lying down in or on a sleeping bag with feet pointing east, then looking up and letting the eyes adjust to the night sky. This year, experts predict between 10 to 20 meteors per hour during the peak.

What may help is that the Lyrids are bright and have a long tail of dust. But they are also fast at 30 miles per second.

The shower is called the Lyrids because the meteors appear to radiate from  the Lyra the Harp constellation near the bright Vega star.

What you are seeing is debris  that has crossed the earth’s orbit from the Thatcher comet. The comet, itself, take about 415 years to orbit around the Sun so earthling won’t be able to see that comet again until 2276.

To learn more about the Lyrids and meteors visit NASA, TimeandDate, EarthSky and Space.


See great American museums from very old to new and historic to live


T-Rex Susie and other dinosaurs reside at the Field Museum. (J Jacobs photo)
T-Rex Susie and other dinosaurs reside at the Field Museum. (J Jacobs photo)

Settle in for an unusual video that takes viewers from the Charleston Museum founded in 1773 to when Chicago’s Field Museum obtained Sue in 1990.

Thanks to “Riches Rivals and Radicals: 100 Years of Museums in America”  a part of the Great Museums film series, you can travel from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “live” museum to the 2004 Smithsonian Museum of The American Indian with stopovers at the National Museum of Air and Space, The Isabella Stewart Gardener in Boston, the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio and the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

Add in NYC’s Met and MOMA, Pittsburgh’s  Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Boston’s Children’s Museum, Michigan’s Greenfield Village, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the US Memorial Holocaust Museum in D.C., New York’s Botanical Garden, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the National Zoo to see the breadth of the definition of museum and how museum architecture has changed.

It’s all on You Tube, so, refill the morning beverage cup, get comfortable, and visit youtube/watch/feature.



Travel virtually to Saint Augustine and Vegas

Photo is courtesy of Visit St. Augustine
Photo is courtesy of Visit St. Augustine

Sure there are countries I still hope to explore, but there are also so many places in the US I would love to revisit.

Two of them are Las Vegas, NV because it has become a foodie town but also because I haven’t visited the Neon Museum and similar attractions and St. Augustine, FL because its centuries-old history is so much a part of the town.

Neon Museum

Director/producer Tim Burton takes visitors on a fun, inciteful, virtual tours of the Neon Museum and Vegas. Follow along with him in six short videos that include “Lost Vegas.” The videos make me realize how much I didn’t notice when there about 12 years ago.

St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum

Visitors get to walk up the historic lighthouse’s 219 steps with Deputy Director Rick Cain without having to huff and puff

They also get a close look at the lens that otherwise has to be seen outside its room. The video also visits the Keepers House.

But just as good are the views of the country’s oldest port city. Founded by Spaniards in 1565, the city cares about its waterfront and cobbled streets.


Supermoon tonight

Supermoon seen in Chicago. ( J Jacobs photo)
Supermoon seen in Chicago. ( J Jacobs photo)

The largest looking full moon, a really supermoon of 2020 will be brightening your neighborhood tonight if the sky isn’t cloudy where you are.

The reason we say that largest looking  is that its size is an optical illusion. The moon looks larger because its orbit brings it closer.

For April 7, he moon’s closest orbital point to earth, called the perigee, has coincided with the moon’s full phase and will be closest at 10:35 p.m. EDT.

Super and even just full moons have been given lots of nicknames. The April  one is often called the “Pink” moon. The Pink moon will look almost as good the evenings of April 6 and April 8, if the sky is clear.

If weather isn’t cooperating mark the calendar for May 7 for the “Flower” super full moon. Just think of the overused but usually true adage of April rain bringing May flowers.

For a fun look at the night sky and the moon visit Space/fullmoon/calendar because it has an interesting video from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The next closest moons will be in the new moon phase which doesn’t reflect the sun. They come the middle of September, October and November. However, the full moon Oct. 1 is the Harvest Moon and Oct. 31 has the Blue Moon, as in the saying “once in a blue moon” because there will be two full moons in one month

Related 2020 article: Super March Monday is about moons

Related 2019 article: March supermoon marks spring


Visit San Francisco Symphony and Monterey Bay Aquarium

his trolley scene is among those found online for zoom backgrounds.
This trolley scene is among those found online for zoom backgrounds.

Until we can physically travel again, Travel Smart will visit cities where art museums, zoos and other destinations are doing videos through youtube, Facebook and Google arts .

When clicking on the links you may get something else but they are just ads so click on” skip ad” and you will be at the even/place you want

Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf, hills and trolley cars. It’s San Francisco, baby. Until you can go back there are also places you can enjoy online that you may not have thought of in the city and down the coast.


Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas. (Photo courtesy of San Francisco Symphony)
Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas. (Photo courtesy of San Francisco Symphony)

San Francisco Symphony

You can watch and hear about Aaron Copeland or  listen to Michael Tilson Thomas conduct the symphony and Emanuel Ax in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Also look for other concerts. They are like having a playlist on the computer to listen to while you work.


San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art features different artists and their work on line. See Judy Chicago and others.

Asian Art Museum

Visit the museum online to see its collection or learn about interesting and historic pieces.


Monterey Bay Aquarium

Watch and learn about penguins or see the cams such as the hypnotic moon jelly movement.

Related: Visit Chicago to see a zoo or travel by L or see it back in the forties