The National Air and Space Museum
This is the most-visited museum in the Smithsonian complex, and some say the world, hosting more than 8 million museum-goers annually. It is a vast museum that chronicles the history of flight and aviation in twenty-three galleries, each devoted to a subject or theme, as well as 300 authentic spacecraft and rockets, space suits, a touchable moon rock, propellers, engines, and many interactive exhibits.
Put aside at least three hours (or four, if you have children with you or if you are really interested in flight) to see the National Air and Space Museum. This time is necessary because there is no way you can rush through this incredible museum.
This is the most popular exhibit in the museum; you can see it from the street through the glass wall of the museum. Here you will find:
The Wright Brothers' 1903 Flyer, the first human-propelled flying machine
The Spirit of St. Louis, the aircraft in which twenty-five-year-old Charles Lindbergh made the first transatlantic flight, from New York to Paris, in thirty-three hours, thirty minutes, in 1927
The Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis, in which Chuck Yaeger became the first pilot to fly faster than the speed of sound, in 1947
Gemini IV, which carried astronauts Edward White and James A. McDivitt on the first manned space walk (exhibited with their space suits, too)
The Apollo 11 command module, which was the first spacecraft to land on the moon (with astronaut Michael Collins's space suit on display as well)
Other highlights include the world's only touchable moon rock, which was collected by
Galleries on the first floor include permanent exhibits on air transportation, how things fly, early flight, the golden age of flight, an interactive flight simulator, the space race, exploring the universe, and looking at earth. There is also an IMAX theater and a food court.
As new as the headlines, the Milestones of Flight gallery now is permanent home to
The first-floor exhibit on the history of early flight displays gliders that inspired the Wright Brothers, the first seaplanes, and a Bleroit IX, the most popular pre-World War I monoplane. In the How Things Fly exhibit, there are hands-on demonstrations of the scientific principles that enable airplanes to fly. You can also crawl into the cockpit of a Cessna 150 and manipulate the controls (a very popular experience for kids of all ages).
The first-floor gallery has you exploring the earth from above for mapping, weather, and spying purposes, and another gallery on the stars explains how satellites are used to map and examine radiant energy from the sun and the stars, with a host of solar instruments on display, as well as a film on the history of telescopes and our current knowledge of our galaxy and those beyond.
The Space Race gallery is one of the most popular exhibits on the first floor, with various models of American spacecraft, rocketry, missiles, space suits, and an overview of the space race. Here you will find a full-size test model of the Hubble space telescope, the
The Samuel P. Langley IMAX Theater features an IMAX screen that is five stories high and seven stories wide. Films on the history of flight and space exploration are shown daily. This is a unique experience, and children love films on this giant screen, especially the everpopular
You can enter the museum shop on the first floor, but it is a three-story, 12,000-square-foot emporium. It is also the largest of the Smithsonian museum stores, where almost every kid who ventures in walks out with the freeze-dried “astronaut” ice cream (at about two bucks, a bargain as far as purchasers of kids' souvenirs are concerned).
At the west end of the first floor is the very popular arcade with the fancy name “At the Controls,” where children can pilot a flight simulator. There are dozens of aircraft to choose from, many of which are on display in the museum. The four-minute ride is $7.50per person but worth every penny.The Second Floor
Galleries on the second floor include exhibits on air and sea exploration from 1911 to the present and also display biplanes, World War I carriers, and navy fighters. There are two separate exhibit halls featuring aviation during World War I and World War II. The second is an extremely popular hall, displaying aircraft from five countries, including a Messerschmitt and a P-51D Mustang.
Another hall on this floor features an exhibit on exploring the planets, where you can see a full-scale replica of
It's hard to believe that only a little more than 100 years ago, on December 17, 1903, the first successful powered, controlled, sustained flight by humans took place in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, using a plane designed and constructed by Orville and Wilber Wright. You'll see this same 1903
The Pioneers of Flight exhibit houses many record-holding airplanes. The most popular is Amelia Earhart's Lockheed
Other galleries on the second floor include a look at space exploration in the future, including a realistic Martian landscape; an overview of the Apollo program, with examples of moon soil and space food and suits; and an exhibit of art about flight and space exploration. The final gallery looks at computers and space exploration and features the world's fastest computer, the brain of the Minuteman missile, and interactive displays for designing spacecraft.
The Albert Einstein Planetarium is located on the second floor, where there are various shows on the night sky, astronomy, and space projected onto a domed interior. Tickets for the planetarium shows can be purchased at the Langley Theater box office for $7.50per person, but you can save by buying a combination planetarium/ IMAX ticket.If You Get Hungry
The Air and Space Museum has redesigned its Wright Place into a wonderful food court featuring a host of fast-food options, including Mezza Café, Boston Market, Donato's Pizza, and McDonald's (with a space-related trinket in the Happy Meal). It is perfect for this very busy museum.