Air and Space tops visitors’ to-do list, year in, year out. The imposing Tennessee marble modernist block, by Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, incorporates three skylit, double-height galleries, which house missiles, aircraft and space stations. In the central Milestones of Flight hall, towering US Pershing-II and Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles stand next to the popular moon rock station, where visitors can stroke a lunar sample acquired on the 1972 Apollo 17 mission. The 1903 Wright Flyer—the first piloted craft to maintain controlled, sustained flight (if only for a few seconds)—and Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis are both suspended here.
Permanent exhibitions in the museum detail the history of jet aviation, space travel and satellite communications. Updates acknowledge modern information technology, but much of the collection’s presentation maintains the quaint optimism of the early space age. Apollo to the Moon explores that era, while Moving Beyond Earth deals with contemporary space exploration and examines how humans live and work in space aboard the space shuttle and International Space Station. The gallery often features live presentations with guest astronauts and space pioneers. A new exhibition for 2013, Time & Navigation, explores how revolutions in timekeeping over three centuries have influenced how we find our way.
The Albert Einstein Planetarium offers half-hour multimedia presentations about stars and outer space; the Langley Theater shows IMAX films on air and space flight. An upgrade involving dual digital projection and surround-sound gives viewers the sensation of speeding through the cosmos.
The museum’s annex, the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center, named after its major donor, opened in Chantilly, Virginia, in 2003. Its hangar-like halls hold the restored Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan, and the space shuttle Enterprise, among other large-scale air-related artifacts. A shuttle bus service makes a round trip between the two outposts several times a day (tickets cost $15 for the round trip, and you’re strongly advised to book in advance by calling 1-202 633 4629). The How Things Fly gallery is a favorite with children.
|Venue name:||National Air and Space Museum||Contact:|
6th St and Independence Ave SW
|Opening hours:||10am–5.30pm daily; 10am–7.30pm select dates late Mar–early Sept; phone or check website for details|
|Transport:||L’Enfant Plaza Metro|
|Price:||Museum free. IMAX & Planetarium films $9.50; $7.50 reductions|