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From da Vinci to Voyager

Originally published by Aviation History magazine. Published Online: November 04, 2013 
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In 1505-06, Leonardo da Vinci envisioned a day when humans would fly like birds. [Biblioteca Reale, Turin; Inset, NASA]
In 1505-06, Leonardo da Vinci envisioned a day when humans would fly like birds. [Biblioteca Reale, Turin; Inset, NASA]

"One can draw an imaginary line from the genius of the Renaissance [Leonardo da Vinci], who dreamed about human flight by studying the flights of birds, to the research that led us to space, and gives us hopes to go to farther destinations."
–Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, aboard the International Space Station, September 12, 2013

Even as the news filtered in across 11 billion miles that the Voyager 1 spacecraft had entered interstellar space, one of the earliest treatises on the concept of flight was being displayed for only the second time on U.S. soil at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. Leonardo da Vinci's Codex on the Flight of Birds, created in 1505-06, is one of the first detailed examinations of bird flight and behavior, which led the Renaissance genius to foresee numerous devices and principles of mechanical flight, including designs for an "ornithopter" and other flying machines.

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Following the Smithsonian exhibit, the Codex will be moved to the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City (, where it will be on display though February 2, 2014.


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