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Unisphere

 

“DEDICATED TO MAN’S ASPIRATIONS toward Peace through mutual understanding and symbolizing the achievements in an expanding universe.”  So reads the dedication plaque for the Unisphere, built by United States Steel Corporation and presented to the New York World’s Fair on April 22, 1964.  This 700-ton, stainless steel Earth sculpture looks much bigger in person than its vital statistics might suggest.  You do not normally encounter nonrectangular structures this large—140 feet high and 120 feet in diameter—especially when the largest things nearby are the two-story tall Queens Museum of Art and the lampposts situated along the walkways.

            As does our planet in space, this Earth tips 23 o on its axis.  The continents are clad with topological features that indicate the world’s most prominent mountain ranges, such as the Alps, the Andes, the Himalayas, and the Rockies.  The tallest mountains rise three or four feet above sea level on this globe, which gives the badly misleading impression that Earth has a bumpy surface.   If the real Earth were shrunk down to the size of the Unisphere, then Mount Everest, for example, plus the entire Himalayan range surrounding it, would stick out only about an inch.

            Two years before the Unisphere was dedicated, John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth.  The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited Earth first, but only once, a year earlier.  John Glenn circled Earth three times before splashing down in the Pacific ocean.  The three tilted rings are as much a symbol of his orbits as they are of our future as a space-faring people.   The bit about the “expanding universe” from the dedication plaque, however, has no relation to anything.  It probably just sounded good to the authors.

            This site was used as the backdrop to the final battle scenes between humans and alien insects in the campy 1997 film Men in Black.  And it shows up as a regional icon in every commercial break during the annual U.S. Open Tennis Tournament matches, held about half a mile away at the National Tennis Center.

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Earth Model

 

THE SHINIEST THING in the vicinity of Columbus Circle is a three-ringed, sheet-metal model of Earth that stands in front of the Trump International Hotel at the intersection of Central Park West, Central Park South, and Broadway.  One can’t help but think of it as a knockoff of the Unisphere in Flushing Meadow, Queens—except that the Unisphere is 5 times greater in diameter and 125 times the volume of the Trump model.  Not only that, the rings encircling the Unisphere serve to honor the three tipped orbits of John Glenn, who had been launched into space two years before the fair opened.  The rings of Trump’s Earth, however, are angled every which way—evoking neither orbits of anything in particular nor the pole-symetric rings sometimes found in armillary spheres.  It’s fun to look at regardless, provided you wear your shades.

 

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New York Hall of Science

 AMERICA HAD A SINGLE-MINDED technopolitical goal for the 1960s: land men on the Moon and return them safely to Earth.  The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs became the means to that end.  Displayed in the backyard of the New York Hall of Science are the single-occupancy Mercury (foreground) and the double-occupancy Gemini space capsules, atop their respective rocket boosters.  The red escape tower attached to the nose of the Mercury capsule was designed to pull it (and its occupant) to safety if the rocket malfunctioned on takeoff.   Mounted nearby is an imagined modern airplane that never came to be.

            These craft are what remain of the expansive outdoor display that was part of the 1964 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadow.  In the distant background of this photograph, an ordinary airplane takes off from nearby LaGuardia Airport.