The renovated Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is out of this world

With eight of its 21 galleries open, no spatial snapshot can do justice to the Smithsonian’s flagship museum

America by plane

Photo: Airplanes hang from the ceiling of the America by Air exhibit.

Photo: Airplanes hang from the ceiling of the America by Air exhibit. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bourg.

For the first time since 2018, the world-renowned Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on DC’s Downtown Mall has reopened – partially. After four years of construction, around a third of the completely redesigned building is open to the public.

Although it only features eight exhibits, the museum checks out all the fascinating boxes expected of Smithsonian flagships. The remaining two-thirds of the building are encased in scaffolding amid a seven-year, $1 billion renovation slated for completion in 2025.

The focus is on showcasing untold stories and voices in air and space, especially women and people of color. An entire gallery of the Destination Moon exhibit was dedicated to Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician whose story was featured in the film hidden numbers.

Dr. Jeffery Kinney, associate director of research and curatorial affairs at the museum, explains the conscious decision made to increase representation in museum exhibits.

“It is a commitment that we have made so that all our visitors can see each other [represented]. And what the renovation of the building and the transformation of our exhibits allows us to do is take those stories… and put them into a format so that our visitors can experience them, see that and also hear the stories of these people” he says.

On October 24, SCO visited the museum’s eight exhibits. Here are the highlights.

America by plane (headset)

After walking unceremoniously through the building from the rear entrance, you are greeted by the breathtaking Smithsonian-branded main entrance. Looking up, there are half a dozen planes hanging in the air from almost invisible wires. Clinging to varying elevations, the immaculately restored planes utilize every foot of three-dimensional space in the expansive sunlit atrium. The massive cockpit and nose of a two-stage 747 protrude from the east wall while its equally colossal engine rests on the ground beside it.

Eastern Air Lines aircraft

Pictured: An Eastern Air Lines passenger plane hangs in the America by Air exhibit.

Pictured: An Eastern Air Lines passenger plane hangs in the America by Air exhibit. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bourg.

The atrium is actually one of eight exhibits, called America By Air. It shows how commercial aviation has changed by showing the aircraft through different generations. Kinney explains the creative vision behind this exhibition. “The inspiration was to show all the cool, neat stuff, in a way, but also to show how technology has changed. But also to show, you know, when we’re talking about artifacts, we’re talking full- large planes,” Kinney said.

Packed throughout the atrium floor are other attractions, like a huge cross-section of a jet engine, a cockpit perspective of a Reagan Airport takeoff, and guided tours of aircraft cabins. plane. Impressive, real life-size T-70 X-Wing fighter jet piloted by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker flies among historic aircraft in the atrium.

speed nation

When you first enter the Nation of Speed ​​exhibit, you might be a bit confused. Parked right in front of you is an old black Corvette – which obviously stands out in an Air and Space museum. Indeed, the entire exhibition is dedicated to humanity’s quest to go faster and faster. Historic racing cars, missiles and a motorcycle line the walls, but in the center of the room are three gigantic engines including an original from the famous Blackbird stealth plane.

Next to the descriptions of each engine are black buttons. When pressed, its matching engine emits a 10-second roar that mimics the real deafening sound of each engine.not.

Planets in planet exploration

Photo: Planets hang from the ceiling of the Exploring the Planets gallery.

Photo: Planets hang from the ceiling of the Exploring the Planets gallery. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bourg.

Destination Moon

Any air and space museum would be incomplete without an exhibition dedicated to the Apollo moon landings. “Destination Moon” takes that above and beyond. Neil Armstrong’s full space suit and the Colombia, Apollo 11’s command module takes center stage. Other less significant but still intriguing artifacts, like Armstrong’s space shaving kit, are also featured.

The exhibit also features artifacts from the two pre-Apollo programs Mercury and Gemini. Like the Apollo section, the Mercury and Apollo mission command modules are on display, both displaying burn marks from re-entry.

The other five exhibitions are also worth seeing. A connected world explores how technology like satellites, undersea cables, and fiber optics allow humans around the world to connect with each other. Early flight details the era of spaceflight between the first flights of the Wright Brothers in the early 1900s and the start of World War I, one of the first wars involving pla

nes.

Engines in the Nation of Speed ​​Gallery

Photo: Engines you can press a button and hear roar are on display in the Nation of Speed ​​gallery.

Photo: Engines you can press a button and hear roar are on display in the Nation of Speed ​​gallery. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Bourg.

The Kenneth C. Griffin Explore the Planets Gallery features test models and full-size replicas of spacecraft, including the Curiosity Rover that landed on Mars in 2011. The ceiling is adorned with multicolored replicas of planets and their moons orbiting the sun. And with a planetarium in the middle, the exhibit proves how learning about other planets can help us better understand our own.

The Thomas W. Haas We All Fly The exhibit showcases the many applications of flight in human life, providing information on everything from police helicopters to Amazon delivery drones. The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Air Age features the original Wright Flyer, the aircraft Wilbur and Orville Wright built and flew for first manned flight in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It details the Wright brothers’ process for inventing the airplane.

With only four years of the billion-dollar renovation completed, we can only wonder what lies behind the scaffolding that covers the other two-thirds of the Smithsonian’s most iconic m.worn.

Kinney briefly touches on the exhibits under construction. “You’ll see galleries devoted to military aviation focusing on WWI, WWII, the Cold War and after, as well as broader themes of spaceflight history… the space age, the experience of living in Earth orbit, space stations, space shuttles and then a gallery dedicated to the future of space.”

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