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This is the web site for the Pugh family of Culpeper, Virginia. Your host is Richard J. Pugh: moving image librarian by day, musician, experimental gardener, and aspiring science-fiction writer by night. Enjoy your visit!

Amendment 2.1?


I generally avoid political topics, because I frequently lose my temper, and because of that, I usually lose the argument itself. But this time I’m going to talk, because well, I lost my temper.

About a week ago, yet another attempt at gun control legislation was defeated in the Senate, despite overwhelming public support for such legislation. And not surprisingly, it was the Republicans who did it. The only explanation that anyone has been able to come up with, or at least come up with that makes any sense, is that the NRA and other pro-gun groups pulled a lot of strings, or pulled in a lot of favors, with their supporters (puppets?) in the GOP.

Trouble is, there actually is another explanation: Our very national character won’t permit such restrictions, no matter what the cost.

Looking in context.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Those are the opening words of the Second Amendment. Let’s look at that for a moment. That final phrase is pretty clear: any citizen of the USA has the undisputed right to own a gun. Any law that attempts to curtail that, even for extreme cases, is going to be met with vehement and formidable opposition. It may even be deemed unconstitutional. As with the right to free speech, this is usually given the strictest possible interpretation. As a result, restrictions on gun ownership and use are very difficult to legislate. The NRA is a surprisingly powerful lobby, and people who own guns are downright rabid when it comes to gun ownership. When someone tries to limit gun ownership, or even make it more difficult, they claim “slippery slope” and will fight any bill, no matter how small, until it dies.

However, look at the first phrase. It talks about a well regulated militia. A “well regulated” – as in codes of behavior and conduct that are supposed to be followed – and “militia,” and locally based military force designed to address a local or regional concern. A modern militia is essentially the military reserves, and perhaps law enforcement officers. It looks to me like the second amendment was set up to guarantee the ability to form military units and police forces as the need arose. It wasn’t necessarily designed to put a gun in the hands of each and every citizen of the republic!

That being said, I personally believe the second amendment has been taken out of context for a very long time. That provision was included because it was 1789. Let’s look at history for a moment. In 1789, the natives were still considered a threat, and the possibility of an invasion by a foreign power (hoping to capitalize on Great Britain’s loss) was very, very real. It was in the front of everyone’s mind, all of the time. Very few countries allowed gun ownership back then, so guaranteeing that right to the population was a big deal for the lawmakers of 1789. Also, a lot of people in the young republic lived by sustenance hunting, farming, and trapping. Even today, such people need, at the very least, a hunting rifle. It can be argued that at that point in our history the provision for gun ownership made perfect sense. In fact it might be considered a “no-brainer.”

But things have changed since 1789, in a lot of ways.

Weapon technology, for example, has changed dramatically since the second amendment was written, and that’s important to remember. The guns of the 1780’s were generally non-repeating, black powder rifles; short range, low caliber wheel-lock pistols; and “pepper guns” that would today be considered six- or eight- gauge shotguns. Automatic or semi-automatic weapons of any type were beyond imagination. Even revolvers were considered a fantasy. (The concept existed, but it would be a few decades before the right technology came along.) What would the founders think of modern weapons? In all seriousness, I suspect they would be OK with most hunting rifles, and would probably be OK with common 12-gauge shotguns. Those guns generally can’t fire more than three or four rounds in a minute, and are designed primarily for hunting. They can also be used as defensive weapons, in that such a weapon can hold off an intruder long enough for the user to escape and/or get assistance. In those respects things haven’t changed much since 1789.

But something like an M16 combat rifle, an AK-47, or an M4-series carbine? I suspect even the founders would draw the line at things like that. Those weapons are designed exclusively for warfare and riot control; they have no other purpose. And unlike the early days of the republic, we now have a police force and a standing military that has been trained in how to use such weapons when the need arises. The general population does not, or should not, need weapons of that level.

The fact that many would insist that “yes, they do,” hints at just how troubled our society has become in other ways. I’ll try to address some of those problems some other time, if I don’t get too depressed.

It’s not only technology that has changed since the amendment was written. Thanks to 227 years of loose gun laws, no one in their right mind is going to invade the USA. Not with every fifth household owning some sort of firearm. Can you imagine trying to occupy or subjugate a territory with such a heavily armed population? And as for the natives, well, sadly they aren’t much of a threat any more. A lot of them want to be, but they don’t have the numbers. The core situations that made the second amendment necessary no longer exist.

These days the gun lobby likes to talk about home defense and protecting ourselves from criminals. One of the more popular arguments is that criminals will always be able to acquire guns, so why should be forbid the law abiding citizens from having them? Another one states that if the government forbids gun ownership, it’s telling the citizens that they don’t have the right to defend themselves, and that they have to rely on the government to do the defending for them.

The sad fact is that the option of owning a gun is so ingrained in our national character that removing it, or even restricting it, is probably impossible. Americans are going to own guns, and that is an absolute certainty in this space-time continuum.

What do I think?

I guess I fall into the group that thinks restrictions should be place on certain types of guns.

Military-grade semi-automatic and automatic weapons should not be available to the general public. End of line. I’ve heard the arguments about criminals always being able to get them and what not, but that just doesn’t hold water for me. If someone needs an AK-47 or M16 for home defense, then there is something seriously wrong with their home area!

And one doesn’t need one of those heavyweights for hunting game. That argument is so absurd that I have to laugh!

Handguns are in a bit of a gray zone. They are designed specifically for shooting other people, but they can be used for hunting. They are not the best choice, given their relatively short range, but I know some people do use them. I guess handguns should be subject to some very strict restrictions. I don’t have the knowledge to know what those restrictions should be, though. This isn’t something I’ve researched.

Non-repeating rifles are generally OK. For one thing they can’t shoot dozens of bullets in one minute, so you’re not likely to get people going on a rampage with one. There have been exceptions, so I may need to think more on this one. But I do know that a hunting rifle isn’t designed specifically for killing other persons. Handguns and automatic weapons generally are people killers, first and foremost.

I’m also in favor of background checks, very thorough and highly invasive background checks, for gun ownership. If someone is going to be given a permit for carrying a device that can launch a small piece of metal at the speed of sound, I think they should have their whole life history and every facet of their life examined from top to bottom. Owning a gun may be a constitutional right, but a gun it still a deadly piece of hardware. Anyone who is going to own one needs to be mentally and emotionally stable, and most importantly, low risk!

Before anyone starts flaming me for that, I am fully aware that such restrictions have been tried, and even in those few cases where they work, enforcement is very difficult. What I would like to see on this front, and what I can reasonably expect to see, are not the same thing.


I don’t own a gun personally, but I wouldn’t mind owning a hunting rifle. If only to keep those pesky raccoons out of the garage! However, I would want a modern replica of a classic black powder rifle, like a Sharpe or Winchester. I want it to look attractive as well as function, since it’s not likely to get much use. At least not until my daughter is a teenager, anyway. At that point I may brandish it from time to time, but I’m not likely to fire it.

That’s supposed to be a dry joke, by the way. I point that out just in case some rube actually takes me seriously.

But given the fact that I was once hospitalized for being suicidal, have a long history of acute depression, ADHD, and a rotten temper, I would be denied gun ownership. I suspect I would be be considered a threat to myself if I had easy access to a gun. So I guess in the final count, I don’t have a horse in this race.

And finally, the mentally ill, and others who go crazy with guns. Someone who has a history of mental instability, or has been convicted of a violent crime, should not be permitted to own a gun, ever, full stop, end of discussion. That doesn’t apply to a huge percentage of the population, so the NRA and their associates should just chill on this. It’s funny that the NRA membership is staunchly against background checks for gun ownership (that slippery slope fear thing). But they are all in favor of the NSA using invasive methods to profile people left right a center, because it supposedly protects us from terrorist threats. There is at least one double standard in there.

Most Americans believe that there should be restrictions on gun ownership, or at least on the kinds of guns that non-military and non-police should have access too. But I guess the problem can be summed up like this: The freedom to own a firearm, even ones that are intended for military purposes only, is something that too many Americans cherish to ever let change.

OK, I yield. But know this: if you have loose laws regarding gun ownership, then you’re going to have to pay a price. That price is that periodically you’re going to have things like the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, the San Bernardino shooting, the Dark Knight shooting in Aurora, Sandy Hook, Columbine, the San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre, and literally dozens of others. That is the trade-off that we as a society are paying for the ability to acquire and own pretty much any type of gun available.

Is it worth the price? Apparently for many Americans it is not, or no longer is, or never was. But those are not the Americans holding the power. The ones who are holding power are apparently ready and willing to pay any price to keep the second amendment untouched. So, we will continue to pay this price, at least until there is a change in the political climate, and the antiquated and misused second amendment is updated.

And as a 1990’s popular culture icon used to say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

There are some who still choose to live by sustenance hunting and farming. It’s no longer necessary to live that way, and doing so probably isn’t healthy, but the option exists. Ownership of a rifle for someone who likes to live frontier-style makes perfect sense, but that’s a pretty small percentage of the population! At least until the zombie apocalypse or something equally grave actually comes to pass.

Winter of my discontent


I can safely say this this calendar year started out well. I began to feel ambitious again. I wanted to do things. I wanted to achieve things. I even made a list of resolutions for the year, and I was prepared to meet them. In all, things were looking up.

But at the end of February, everything fell apart. That is the primary reason this blog has been quiet for several months. I’ve been a bit… preoccupied.

It began with a warning of unsatisfactory job performance at work. I don’t think I need to explain what that can result in. It wasn’t long before the cause was identified. I apparently have Attention Defect and Hypertension Disorder, commonly known as ADHD. The signs have been present for quite some time, but for whatever reason I never made the connection. Nor did anyone else in my life, apparently. My wife knew something was wrong, but like me and everyone else, she though it was that damn clinical depression I’ve been struggling with since who knows when.

I’ve been having trouble at my job for quite a while. There are a lot of things to remember and keep track of, and quite often I was overwhelmed. I also have never felt confident in my job, nor do I feel accepted by my colleagues. I’m not afraid to say that I have some colleagues who have openly questioned my competence and why I am even there. What’s worse, for a long time I genuinely believed that they were right, that I was not cut out to do my job, and that no matter how hard I tried that wasn’t going to change, and that it was only a matter of time before I was shown the door. It wasn’t until January, ironically, that I began to feel differently on this matter. I’m not sure why, but I started taking a different stance of a lot of things. By that point it was too late to prevent the performance warning.

At my agency, an unsatisfactory performance rating often results in a demotion or dismissal, which they euphemistically call “separation.” I had 90 days to improve. I did take steps to change my life and improve my job performance. But at the end of the 90 days I needed more time. Fortunately, thanks to the help of my doctors and my professional guild, I was able to get an additional 60 days. At this writing, my extended re-evaluation period will end in late July. I’m not out of the woods yet, but I’m pretty sure that the worst case scenario is no longer the most likely scenario.

But that’s only part of the story. I wasn’t only having problems at work. I’ve been having problems at home as well. I’m almost always tired and short tempered. When I get home in the evening all I ever want to do is sleep. My brain simply doesn’t want any more stimulation, nor does it want anything asked of it. When all of this came to a head I asked my wife to make a list of personality changes she has noticed in me in the last few months. I won’t list them here, but some of them really hit hard.

I later shared this with one of my doctors, and his immediate response was advanced depression. That was no surprise, but it acquired a new wrinkle. One fear we had was that I had suffered a micro-stroke, but some blood tests pretty much ruled that out. (I don’t know how blood samples can determine something like that, but I’ll assume my doctor knows what he is talking about.) Another possible culprit was my hyperactive blood sugar, but he thinks that is a result and not the cause. He thinks the root problem is that I have been under so much stress for so long that my metabolism became unbalanced.

(There is a correlation between excessive stress and haywire blood sugar, actually.)

Over the last few years, I have been under constant, relentless stress from multiple angles. I’ve been dealing with the clinical depression, problems at work, problems at home, Michael’s medical history, some of Caitlin’s problems, diabetes, my mother’s death, Lisa’s car accident last August, and my weight problem. I’m sure there are other things as well.

Some of these issues have resolved themselves and faded. But the problem is the “damage” they did while they were happening. I was overloaded with stress and worry, and apparently it was more than my mind could handle. This caused the ADD to manifest itself. So even though some of the issues are no longer a concern, the residual effect of the stress has remained.

One thing I need to stress is that ADD and ADHD are not “acquired” conditions. They are genetically based (which also suggests they can be hereditary), and can manifest in different ways. My doctor figures that I simply hadn’t been diagnosed. A lot of people with ADD and ADHD are never diagnosed, because the condition is not problematic so long as the patient can compensate. And generally people compensate without actively thinking about it. Like anyone else, they find courses of action that work best for them, and proceed. They may not realize they have ADHD, and so long as they can continue to compensate, the condition will go unnoticed, and may never be a problem.

It’s when the patient loses the ability to compensate, and can no longer find effective courses of action, that the condition becomes apparent. My doctor suspects that up until 2-3 years ago, I was able to compensate, at least sufficiently, to keep ADHD at bay. But then I was hit with too many things in too short a time, and it became more than my depression and ADHD riddled mind could handle. Even so, I tried to compensate and roll as best I could. Along the way my brain chemistry was changing, as it tried to continue compensating. Sadly, the changes didn’t work. Unfortunately this how it often happens, my doctor said. Once the ability to compensate is lost or becomes insufficient, and ADD fully manifests itself, it’s as good as permanent.

I described my situation as “overclocking” my brain, like one can do with a computer. Yes, by means of overclocking, you can make a computer go faster and therefore do more things. But the system board is running at a rate that exceeds design specifications, and will eventually overheat. When that starts to happen, it’s not long before the chips are fried and the computer is as good as toast. The doctor liked that metaphor.

One he likes to use is to compare it to managing fires. There is a limit to how many “fires” one person can manage at a given time. For someone with ADHD, that number is lower than most. In my case, some of the fires went out of control, and I simply couldn’t divert the necessary attention to fight them. I simply had to let them burn.

There was an episode of the cartoon show Gravity Falls, called Dreamscapers, where one of the characters used virtual-reality technology to look around in another character’s brain. If someone were to do that with me, parts of my brain would look like the aftermath of a forest fire.

After her car accident, Lisa was found to have a serious vision problem, which had not been apparent until that time. The eye doctor called it a “reveal,” where a condition the body had been compensating for, and hiding, suddenly becomes apparent. I had a reveal of my own. Near as I can tell, up until around 2013, I had been doing an elaborate balancing act. But once that balance was upset, the ADHD did a reveal. The genetic predisposition that had been there all along became visible.

This also reminded of my father’s condition. He died of an angina rupture, which is genetic in origin. There are symptoms, but it’s hard to make the connection unless you know exactly what to look for. My father was generally OK. He had blood pressure problems, and he was badly overweight, but he managed to keep both of those conditions more or less under control. Or at least he was able to prevent them from getting worse. But in May of 1993, the right set of circumstances occurred, causing the genetic time bomb that had been with him since he was born to detonate, and his life ended.

Apparently I had a genetic time bomb of my own, and somewhere within the last three years it went off. But mine didn’t go off with a loud, catastrophic bang. It was a slow moving incendiary device, that gradually chipped away at my mind’s ability to work. I had been too long overclocked, and my circuit boards suffered heat damage. The fires went out of control.

And my life has changed forever.

Currently I am in the process of changing to a new medication plan. My brain stabilizer of choice is Adderall; so far I need a small but consistent dose. I will admit that I’m not comfortable taking an amphetamine, even one that is very mild and tightly regulated. I have heard horror stories about what those things can do under the wrong circumstances. But it was either that or watch everything that matters to me fall away. So, bottoms up!

I’m also looking for an additional counselor to help me with some specific issues. I’m also putting together a plan for controlling my weight. These are all part of a larger gestalt of treatment plans. How well it works remains to be seen.

My reactions to this whole affair have covered a huge range: anger, sadness, confusion, and even vindication. And this ride is still ongoing. In fact, this may only be the beginning. This isn’t something I can fight. I can only manage it.

Time to adjust course and move on.


Hello, 2016

Photo credit: “The last sunset of 2015,” taken by the author, on Mt. Pony, Culpeper County, Virginia, December 31, 2015, around 5:15pm.

Everyone makes resolutions on New Year’s. It’s a long standing tradition! And this year, I’m no exception. It’s also an unfortunate truth that most people’s resolutions end up being abandoned by mid-February. Usually because life and/or the universe has other plans that trump anything that came before.

But still, it’s good to hope, and attempting to improve one’s self is a noble thing to do, even if it’s difficult to achieve or maintain. Anyway, I’ve arranged my resolutions into groups, in order of priority.

Group one: Home and Hearth. These are the ones that concern me the most.

  1. Get certain financial things under control. Last year I inherited some money and a stock portfolio from my mother. This year I want to get that fully squared away and working the way I want it to be. That is to say, shift the money into accounts that will help set up funds for Caitlin and Michael to go to college, and provide Lisa with a safety net should something tragic happen to me.
  2. Write up a will. To the best of my knowledge, I’m not staring death in the face. But my health isn’t in top form, and things can happen. So I intend to have a plan in place for just such an event.
  3. Clear the clutter from the house. This isn’t as serious as the first two, but it’s a tall order! Our house is a mess, and it has been for quite some time. The reasons for that are long and varied, but it’s time for some changes, because it’s been giving me considerable angst. We’re actually starting on this one already. One benchmark I want to use is to get at least 1000 pounds of stuff out of the house, either by donating it, selling it, or just tossing it. Earlier this week 13 pounds of stuff was donated to two charities in Culpeper. It’s a start.
  4. Several home and yard repairs. I have a laundry list of things that “need to be done” either to the house or to the land around it, and a few of them are pretty big projects. I hope to get at least some of these done. If I can’t, then I’ll try to find a service that can help.

Group two: my health. Everyone wants to improve their health in some way. This is my approach.

  1. I want to lose 20 pounds, and hope to keep off at least 10 of them. Everyone makes this resolution, so why should I be different? I tried to make a realistic and attainable goal, though. Ideally I should lose about 30 pounds, but I’ll try for this more modest step first. If I’m successful, I’ll re-visit this one later in the year.
  2. Keep my average blood sugar below 200. I’m diabetic, so my blood sugar can be a problem. I am prone to spikes, and rarely have lows. Therefore, my focus should be on keeping my sugar below a certain point. According to my doctor, someone of my body-mass-index should generally fall between 120 and 180, and the closer to the lower end the better. That being said, I should probably aim lower than keeping my average below 200, which is technically high. But if my readings from the post New Year’s week are anything to go by, I need to focus on something attainable. Here too, if successful, I will re-evaluate the situation at a later date.
  3. Deal with some of my personal demons. If you’re a regular reader of this site, then you know I have issues with depression. In recent months I’ve been compiling a list of specific issues that seem to be the source of my overall problems, and I’m going to bring these to the attention of my therapist. And unlike earlier years, I’m planning to get aggressive about it. I had a few wake-up calls this past year, so enough lollygagging.
  4. Visit the gym at least twice a week. In recent months I let myself get caught in a lot of proverbial briar patches, and it had a negative effect on my mood and health. Visiting the gym will alleviate a certain amount of that. I’ve long managed at least once a week, so I’m now shooting for two. My doctor says I should be shooting for five, so this is another one I can re-evaluate down the line, depending on how I do.

Group three: Would be nice. These are lower priority, but if the opportunity presents, these are some other things I would like to achieve this year. These may fall into the category of “self-improvement.”

  1. Keep expanding and working with the square foot vegetable garden. The 2015 garden was more successful than the 2014 one, but I still have a lot to learn. I’m hoping to expand to a maximum of four garden boxes this year. I suspect going larger would become hard to maintain.
  2. The Pugh Cookbook, second edition. Some years back, my late aunt Mary Pat composed a cookbook for the extended family, and many of us use and enjoy it. In the ten years since, the clan roster has changed, and some new recipes have surfaced at family gatherings. If I can, I’m hoping to compile a second edition of this book (the working title is “Second Helpings”). I suspect that other members of the family will be willing to help me on this one. The real issue is time.
  3. Digitize some vinyl albums. I have a whole mess of vinyl record albums, and some time back I acquired a USB turntable to record them into digital sound files. Why haven’t I done this yet? Good question. This year, I would like to transfer at least 50 of them to digital. If time and opportunity permits, I’ll do more. If I’m really lucky, I’ll move on to the audio cassettes and VHS videotapes!
  4. Get at least one of my Solar Council stories to a publisher. I’m an aspiring, and frustrated, science fiction writer. The “Solar Council” is the name I use for my futuristic science fiction setting. By most accounts my setting is a “hard” science fiction setting, so it’s not always easy to work with. (My characters rarely “talk to me.”) But this year I hope to get off my sagging laurel and get one story off to a publisher. Weather the story gets printed or digitally distributed is a totally different issue. For now, I just need to get back into that particular phase of the game.
  5. Learn a new computer language. I used to do a lot of programming, but that was with the old style procedural languages. The paradigm has changed, so perhaps I should change with it. Java and Perl are two potential candidates.
  6. Get back on stage. I used to do a lot of performing, both as a stage actor and as a coffeehouse musician. I haven’t done either one in years, and it’s time to try it again. I recently saw an excellent stage production of A Christmas Carol that featured a number of people I know from both work and church, and the bug is back. So my first step is to revive my coffeehouse act, or at least get back into practice, and find some open mic nights. If the regional theater starts putting together another play, then that will be another option.
  7. Finish the Elder Scrolls III (Morrowind) game. I’ve been playing this awesome game off and on for over a decade, but I have yet to actually get to the official game ending! Strange, no? Thing is, I enjoy the world editor as much if not more than the game itself, so I keep getting distracted. I don’t hold out much hope for this one. But since it’s low priority, I don’t have to.

And there it is, my plans for 2016. How they play out remains to be seen. Looking back, I have a lot of stuff to cover, so it’s unrealistic to expect success on all of them. But I’ll do what I can. If I’m ambitious and attentive, I’ll post status reports here. So, who else has interesting resolutions for the New Year?

Apollo 8: Christmas at the Moon

Apollo 8
A depection of Apollo 8’s insertion into lunar orbit, by artist Mark Karvon.

Humanity has staged, to date, nine manned missions to the moon. On six of these missions, people walked on the lunar surface. December 21 is the anniversary of the first trans-lunar launch, and the first manned mission to another celestial body, Apollo 8. Her crew was Frank F. Borman, James A. Lovell, and William A. Anders.

Apollo 8 crew portrait

Apollo 8 was, in many ways, a hardware test. Even as late as 1969, the nature of the lunar surface wasn’t totally understood. The moon was by then known to be covered with a very dusty soil that we now call regolith. There were still doubts about the possibility of landing a human on the moon, the fear being that any lander would sink into the regolith and become trapped as if in quicksand. This was one of the many questions that Apollo 8 was sent to answer. Was the hardware of the Apollo program suitable for the task of sending humans to the moon and back? Observations from the three astronauts, the first humans to get a good, clear view of the lunar surface, concluded that the existing lander design would work.

But as big a question as the lunar surface was, an even bigger question was the navigation of a trans-lunar flight path. Navigating in outer space is very difficult, even when you’re only in Earth orbit. But when you need to deal with not one celestial body, but two, the potential for problems gets very high, very fast. The flight calculations for Apollo 8 were extensive, and needed constant adjustment. But the crew of the spacecraft, and the ground support crew, handled everything in stride. It took Apollo 8 three days to reach the moon. The craft orbited the moon ten times over a roughly eighteen-hour period, then broke orbit for the three day journey home. The return flight began early on Christmas morning, shortly after 6 AM UTC. The craft splashed down on December 27.

The flight of Apollo 8 has been largely overshadowed by the later flight of Apollo 11. But it still had great historical significance. Some of the most famous photographs from the early space program, including the iconic Earthrise, were taken by Apollo 8. It was also the first time that humans had traveled beyond the gravitational influence of Earth. The year 1968 had been riddled with tragedies and turmoil all over the world, but many in the press felt that the success of Apollo 8 allowed the year to end on a relatively high note.

The mission also created some controversy when, during their final television broadcast before leaving lunar orbit, the three astronauts took turns reading the creation story from Genesis. This prompted atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair to sue NASA for having astronauts – government employees – pray on the job. This struck her as violating the separation of church and state. (O’Hair was notorious for doing stuff like that.) The suit was eventually thrown out of court, but NASA did tone down such actions on later flights, wanting to avoid more negative publicity.

The information gathered during the flight of Apollo 8, especially the computation of a trans-lunar round trip, proved vital in the success of the successive manned missions to the moon, including Apollo 11. The command module of Apollo 8 is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Illinois. Other artifacts from the flight are in museums and science centers around the world.