How Do You Keep Items Safe in a Time Capsule and More Questions From Our Readers

Also learn more about the jaw harp, why it takes three days to get to the Moon and more

Ask Smithsonian
How do you ensure documents left in a time capsule will be legible after 100 years? Chris Buzelli

My family is preparing a time capsule in which each of us will place a document. How can we ensure these documents will remain legible for 100 years?

Stephen Roberts, Potomac, Maryland

Choose a stable paper—one made of 100 percent unrecycled cotton or linen rag. Use a laser printer or, if you’re writing, a graphite pencil or an archival pen. Store each document in a Mylar sleeve, flat, unfolded and protected from light. Finally, seal the whole package in a benign container with a silica gel pack (to absorb moisture) and an activated charcoal pack (to absorb pollutants). All these materials are widely available.

Donald Williams, Conservator
Museum Conservation Institute

What is a jaw harp?

George J. Samuels, Columbia, Maryland

It’s one of the oldest musical instruments still played today. (You may know it as a jew’s-harp, but it has no specific tie to the Jewish people.) It consists of a small frame with a stiff tine attached at one end; the musician holds the frame in his mouth and plucks the tine, changing pitch by changing the shape of his mouth.

Michael Pahn, Media Archivist
National Museum of the American Indian

If the moon is 250,000 miles from earth, and the escape velocity to leave earth’s orbit is 25,000 mph, why did the Apollo missions take three days to get to the moon and not ten hours?

Ed Haney, White Pigeon, Michigan

Those flights were necessarily indirect, involving moving targets (the earth and the moon), each of which has a gravitational pull. The spacecraft were first “parked” in an orbit 100 miles above the earth (where they were traveling about 16,500 mph). Once cleared to proceed, they fired their rockets briefly to escape the earth’s orbit, then chased the moon (whose speed in orbit around the earth averages almost 2,300 mph) and entered its orbit. Each spacecraft traveled much farther than 250,000 miles, and as a result of the earth’s gravitational pull, they didn’t maintain 25,000 mph very long.

Allan Needell, Curator
National Air and Space Museum

Did any men aboard the Titanic try to disguise themselves as women to get on the lifeboats?

Murray Peterzell, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania

Probably not. One survivor said a towel around his neck may have led ship’s officers  to let him into a lifeboat by mistake, and Fifth Officer Harold Lowe told  investigators he’d found a man hiding under a shawl in Lifeboat 14. But neither account is corroborated.

Dan Piazza, Curator
National Postal Museum

Did Evalyn Walsh McLean really display the Hope Diamond on her Great Dane at parties, lend it to charities to raise money and allow her granddaughter Mamie to wear it to bed?

Charles Reynolds, Louisville, Tennessee

Correct on two counts. She hung it from the neck of her Great Dane, Mike, and she lent it to charitable causes. (People would pay 25 cents to hold it.) But there are no credible stories of Mamie wearing it to bed.

Richard Kurin, Smithsonian Under Secretary
Author, Hope Diamond: The Legendary History of a Cursed Gem

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How do you ensure documents left in a time capsule will be legible after 100 years? Chris Buzelli

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