HMNS Expansion Update: September 2011

If you’ve been searching for a silver lining to the story of our area’s historic drought, here’s a very small one: the museum’s new Dan L Duncan Wing didn’t lose a single day of work this summer due to rain.

Progress on the expansion project has been made at a furious pace over the past few months. Here are some of the highlights:

Walls and roof engaged!

By the end of July the expansion’s gleaming white roof had been torched into place, and the exterior sheathing and glass curtain wall had wrapped its way around the entire perimeter of the building (save for a couple of spots left open for the delivery of interior finish materials.) This condition designates a building as being “dried-in,” an important milestone that releases the contractor to move ahead with finishing climate-sensitive aspects of the project’s interior.

HMNS Expansion: Sept. 2011 Update!
The contractor is putting the finishing touches on the glass curtain wall
at the center of the western wall of the fourth floor.

Power Up and Chill Out.

In late June, the permanent electrical service for the new wing was energized, ahead of schedule! Then, just in time for the arrival of the record streak of 100-degree days, the contractor was able to start up the building’s HVAC system. Not only does the flow of air allow the building to breathe a little, protect the interior finishes from melting or molding, and keep the workers from suffering heat exhaustion, but starting up the system this early also allows extensive testing and balancing of the mechanical equipment to ensure air flows well both in the new building and in the existing museum, which will ultimately be served by the new central plant, too.

HMNS Expansion: Sept. 2011 Update!
View of the bright and shiny new central plant. Has kind of a Kubric feel to it, no?
The HVAC system was switched on in July.
Eventually it will heat and cool both the new wing and the existing museum.

Paleo Hall Transformed.

The vast space of the future paleontology hall, on the expansion’s main level, has been dramatically altered over the summer. Ductwork has been insulated. Sprinkler pipes, lights, and Unistrut have been hung. Drywall soffits and furr-downs have been framed, sheetrocked, taped, and floated, defining the nooks and crannies that will host the fossils and murals and dioramas the HMNS staff has been assembling and designing.

HMNS Expansion: Sept. 2011 Update!
At the north end of the future paleontology hall, lights, drywall, and
Unistrut are still being installed via scissor lift. Beyond the large white walls seen here are the
boilers, domestic water pumps, and chillers.

The Halls are Alive…

In the expansion’s lower level, bright corridors are now defined as the walls for the new classrooms, animal room, auditorium spaces, and conference spaces are sheetrocked, primed, and ready to be painted. The ceiling grid and support beams for moveable walls to divide the larger classrooms have been installed. Just this week the contractor sawed through the 12-inch thick concrete foundation wall of the existing museum to connect the lower level of the expansion with the Jones Gallery.

HMNS Expansion: Sept. 2011 Update!

This could be a photo of the installation of a new exhibit on grave robbing, but it isn’t.

In order to connect the lower level of the new wing to the lower level of the existing museum,
the contractor is cutting through the thick, concrete foundation wall below the Weiss Energy Hall.
This photo shows the first cut, as seen from the expansion side.

Going Up!

While getting the stairs installed was an exciting milestone from our last post, this time the exciting news about getting from floor to floor revolves around the elevators. The platforms, doors, and wall enclosures for the three new passenger elevators are all installed. The contractor is busily constructing the conveying mechanism and cabs for the passenger elevators as well. On the other side of the expansion’s core, the back-of-house service elevator is operational (for contractor use, that is), its shiny stainless steel cab protected by plywood for the next few months.

HMNS Expansion: Sept. 2011 Update!
Contractors work on the platform of one of the three new passenger elevators.
Every time they catch me taking their picture, they ask for a dollar.
So I had to be really sneaky to capture this valuable image.

The fall season may not bring much needed rain to Houston, but it does promise some exciting developments on the HMNS expansion project, as walls, floors, and ceilings receive their finish treatments and the exterior scaffolding comes down to reveal the building’s snazzy travertine and aluminum coat.

Follow HMNS Expansion Updates | See the Full Expansion Photo Set

Rice NASAversary!

Waxing Gibbous Moon 69 Percent 26Nov2009
Creative Commons License photo credit: mikebaird

Today’s post is from Dr. David Alexander, Rice Professor of Physics and Astronomy and creator of the Space Frontiers Lecture series. 

This has not been a good year for the space enthusiasts of Houston with the cancelation of the Constellation program, the end of an era with the last space shuttle flight, and the decision not to have one of the orbiters spend its retirement in Houston.

However, the people of Houston are known for rising to any challenge and the opportunity to enter a new phase of space exploration with the development of the multi-passenger crew vehicle, the continued operation of the International Space Station, and the push to maintain an American presence in space only emphasizes the importance of Houston and NASA to the nation.

Houston has been at the forefront of the human space adventure for five decades and this is a record worth celebrating.  Come join us in acknowledging the people whose dedication, excellence, and ingenuity put humans on the Moon (and brought them back again), created the “world’s greatest flying machine” in the Space Shuttle, and stimulated the imaginations of generations of would-be space explorers.

Welcome to a new and exciting year in the history of Rice University.

The 2011 incoming class is the 100th to walk through Rice’s historic Sallyport and the next year will see us work towards our centennial celebrations in October 2012.  Another major anniversary for Rice and the Greater Houston area is marked this September as we celebrate 50 years of the NASA Johnson Space Center and we are proud to note that Rice was there at the beginning.  September 14 marks the 50th anniversary of NASA Administrator James E. Webb’s decision, conveyed in person to President Kennedy, to build the NASA Manned Space Center in Houston (later to be named the Johnson Space Center) on land that was deeded to the government by Rice.  The public announcement of the location was made on September 19, 1961 and the manned space program made its home in Houston.

To celebrate a remarkable 50 years in human history, Rice and partners are hosting the Rice NASAversary, a week-long set of events from September 9 to 16.

To open the Rice NASAversary celebrations Rice will host Space City 2020, a space strategy workshop bringing together local academic, business, and government leaders to promote space technology and exploration. The culmination of the workshop will be a banquet with keynote speaker Dr. France Cordova, president of Purdue University and former NASA Chief Scientist.  The banquet is open to the public.

We celebrate our 50 years of connection to JSC on Wednesday, September 14, with the first in this year’s Space Frontiers Lecture Series

We are honored to host Mr. Norm Augustine, Chairman of the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee.  Among many honors and awards, Mr. Augustine has been named one of the “Fifty Great Americans,” has received the National Medal of Technology from the President of the United States, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Distinguished Public Service Award and is five-time recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal from the U. S. Department of Defense.  The “Augustine Report”, the 155-page output from the United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee, is a comprehensive and critical assessment of the US human space flight program and what is needed to maintain American leadership in space.

Mr. Augustine’s talk, entitled The Greatest Obstacle to Human Space Travel, will be held at the McMurtry auditorium in Duncan Hall at 7pm on September 14 (reception at 6:30pm).

Richard Dowling, The Battle of Sabine Pass, and The Davis Guards Medal

In Texas! The Exhibition you can view hundreds of objects, each with fascinating back stories. Some of these amazing artifacts belonged to well known national heroes and some to local heroes.

As I stroll through the exhibit’s Civil War section, I’m often drawn to one small and shiny object named the Davis Guards medal. I’m a history nerd, but until recently I wasn’t familiar with Davis Guards metals.

Engraved on the metal are the words: Jack White| Sabine Pass| Sept: 8th| 1863. A document in the case above the metal has the signature of a 1st Lieutenant by the name of R W Dowling.

Together, these objects reveal an interesting story.

It’s a story this history “connoisseur” still might have overlooked if something in the text panel had not caught my eye. According to the panel, the Davis Guards medal on display is one of three held in private hands, and it is one of only seven that are known to still be in existence.

However, being rare does not always translate to being fascinating. As I was preparing to begin my research for our upcoming Discovering the Civil War exhibition, I noticed something interesting.

On a rough draft of objects we hope to have on display is yet ANOTHER shiny disk with the words: Sabine Pass| Sept: 8th| 1863. I was intrigued. If only three of these are in the hands of private collectors and HMNS may have the honor of displaying a second Davis Guard medal, this piece is more fascinating.

But who was R W Dowling? What was his connection to the Davis Guards medal? What happened at the Battle of Sabine Pass? And most importantly, why is this medal significant? Since the discovery of the second medal to be displayed I have been obsessively researching to find more about these topics.

The Davis Guards Medal
The Davis Medal
See more photos from the Texas exhibit on Flickr.

Richard William “Dick” Dowling was born in 1838 in an area called Tuam (pronounced choo-um), which is located in Ireland.

He and his family left Ireland at the start of the potato famine in 1845 and settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. While living in Louisiana, Dowling’s parents and four of his siblings died of yellow fever in 1853. After the loss of his parents, he and a few siblings moved across the Louisiana border to Texas.

Dowling settled in Houston where he met, fell in love with, and married Elizabeth Odlum. With the support of Elizabeth’s family, Dowling was able to start and maintain several successful saloon businesses and became a founding member of the Houston Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 (which later became the Houston Fire Department), and even owned one of the first oil and gas companies in Texas. His saloons were outfitted with gas lighting as a result of this investment. Richard Dowling was indeed a prominent local businessman.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, like many men during this time, Dick Dowling went off to war.

He joined a group of other Irish immigrants. His group would help the Confederate army remove the Union blockade during the Battle of Galveston. During that battle, the USS Westfield sank off the coast (HMNS will display some objects from the USS Westfield in the Discovering the Civil War exhibition). Dowling and his group were in charge of guarding the coast of Texas until they were given a new assignment, the Sabine Pass.

Dowling was placed in charge of a group of 47 men of the Davis Guards, which was named after the current Confederate States of America’s president. Under his uncompromising leadership, he drilled his men until they could properly shoot up to 2,000 yards, which was the length to clear the Sabine Pass.

What Dowling and his men did on September 8, 1863 would go down in history as one of the greatest military upsets on American soil.

The 47 men of the Davis Guard were faced with 5,000 enemy soldiers. Instead of drawing back, according to his official report, Dowling and his men used a motto that once brought heartache to Texas.

They shouted “Victory or Death” as they aggressively attacked the Union forces.

After 45 minutes, the Union soldiers retreated and the battle was over. The Davis Guards hadn’t lost a single man. They captured 350 prisoners, and 50 Union soldiers lay dead that day in a solid victory for the CSA. The Union forces would never again threaten Texas in a major confrontation until the Battle of Palmito Ranch (also a CSA victory), which was fought over a month after the Civil War had ended. The victory at the Battle of Sabine Pass was one of the reasons that Texas was the only southern state to never be successfully occupied during the Civil War.

President Jefferson Davis was so pleased with the underdog victory that he asked the Confederate Congress to approve the commission of medals for the Davis Guard.

The medal is thought to be the only one commissioned by the Confederate Congress. Each Guards member would receive a silver round medal attached to a green ribbon (in honor of their Irish background) that was engraved with Sabine Pass| Sept: 8th| 1863 on one side, and on the other D.G. with either a Maltese cross or the CSA flag below the initials. Naturally, being an honorary member of the Davis Guards, President Davis was also given a medal along with every Davis Guards member.

The Confederate flag was the shortest reigning flag in Texas’ history, and even though the “war of northern aggression” would bring this chapter in our history to a close, it provided us with local Texas heroes.

In Texas! The Exhibition there are amazing artifacts from Texas’ proud past. Don’t miss the chance to see a rare part of history that is on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

And don’t forget to join us in October for our new special exhibition Discovering the Civil War!

Free Event for Educators this Saturday!

Museum Educators Open House

Tomorrow – January 22, 2011,
9 a.m.  - 1 p.m.

Thinking of including a trip to the Houston Museum District for your class? Interested in professional development opportunities at some of Houston’s coolest venues? Want a Museum docent or staff member to bring artifacts or demonstrations to your classroom for an extra boost before those standardized tests or just as a cool surprise for a great semester?

You can learn about what 42 of Houston’s Museums have to offer this Saturday as the Houston Museum District presents the Museum Educators Open House!

Museum Educators Open House is a conference style event free of charge for registered Educators from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. followed by the opportunity to visit participating Museums until their doors close on Saturday with your MEOH wristband!  

Register and download the day’s program on the Houston Museum District website here!

HMNS is one of the host museums (all within walking distance) where many of the day’s presentations will be held in 14 of our classroom spaces in the lower level of the Museum. Educators who attend for at least 3 hours, attend at least 3 presentations and show up between 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. at one of the participating host museum’s registration table to trade in your “passport” for a certificate of attendance.

Extra special things that HMNS is offering for the Educators participating in MEOH 2011 include discounted tickets for educators to visit our special exhibitions Real Pirates and Forgotten Gateway - as well as an awesome 20% discount in the HMNS gift shop!

We hope to see you all here on Saturday!!