A museum whose collection took billions of dollars to produce but which has relatively few visitors is tucked within the aerospace-industrial sprawl that surrounds Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.
The museum isn't filled with Monets or Picassos but rather an extraordinary array of electronic equipment ranging from massive antennas that squat on the grass outside to rows of black boxes that line the interior aisles.
It's the Historical Electronics Museum, and it's jammed with mostly military radios, radar, sonar, sensors and other electronic devices, many of which were invented by scientists and engineers who worked in the nearby facilities of defense contractors.
Last week, the museum unveiled a new exhibit, a mural-sized image of the Great Orion Nebula pieced together from 104 images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The mural is in the museum because technology once used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is lodged there.
The museum houses an old Doppler radar used in an early missile designed to attack flights of Soviet bombers; a variety of satellite sensors used by the National Security Agency; and a camera and other equipment that flew aboard early NASA space capsules.
An estimated 18,000 visitors toured the museum last year, about a third of them high school and college students. The 22,000-square-foot building housing the collection is provided by Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, successor to Westinghouse Defense and Electronics Systems Center, which started the collection in 1973.
The museum is run by a non-profit corporation with a board that includes representatives from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the Carnegie Institute and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in addition to a number of corporations that specialize in defense electronics.
The museum benefits greatly from grants and donations from various agencies and engineering societies, according to Michael A. Simons, its director.
The museum, which doubled in size in 1999, includes a new events and meeting space and a half-acre of outdoor exhibit space. Educational programming is being developed, including Young Engineers and Scientists Seminars and an annual Robot Festival.
The Historical Electronics Museum is at 1745 W. Nursery Road, Linthicum, and is open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Information: 410-765-0230.