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Jefferson Dr. at 6th St. SW
Telephone: 202.633.2370
Admission: Free
Museum Hours: Open daily 10:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Closed December 25


How old is the universe? When was the first successful manned flight? What is GPS and its' significance? The National Air and Space Museum chronicles the history of flight from the very earliest attempts to the very latest, answers many of these questions, and asks some new questions. The museum, located on the National Mall holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world. The museum is divided into 23 galleries, has an IMAX theater and planetarium. The impressive collection of aircraft and spacecraft includes the Wright Flyer, The Spirit of St. Louis, the Apollo 11 command module and a lunar rock sample.

Museum History

The National Air and Space Museum's collection started in 1876 when the Smithsonian Institution received a group of kites from the Chinese Imperial Commission after the closing of the 1876 Cenntenial Exposition in Philadelphia. In 1946 the National Air Museum as created as a separate bureau of the Smithsonian Instution by an act of congress. Originally the collection was housed in the Arts & Industries building on the National Mall. In 1958 Congress authorized construction of a new facility for the National Air Museum. In 1966 the museum had its name changed to the National Air and Space Museum after President Lyndon Johnson amended the orginal legislation for the museum to include spaceflight. This amendment also included a provision to build a new facility for the museum. Six years later Congress appropriated $40 million for the construction of the new facility, and on November 20, 1972 the groundbreaking ceremony took place. The new museum opened on July 1, 1976 as part of the bicenntenial celebration that was taking place in Washington, DC that year. Since that time the National Air and Space Museum has become the most visited museum in the world.


The National Air and Space Museum is housed in a 161, 145 square foot building that is 635 feet in length, 225 feet in width and almost 83 feet tall. The building has three floors, the first and second are divided into galleries and the third floor contains the archive and administrative offices. The building has an open feel to it, and yet is able to effortlessly suspend aircraft from the ceiling. The facility was opened July 1, 1976 and cost $40 million to build.


Gallery 100 -- Milestones of Flight

This gallery shows some of the firsts in flight including the Goddard rockets which were the first successful liquid propellant rockets, Sputnik the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth, Mercury "Friendship 7" the first American in earth orbit and many others.

Gallery 102 -- Air Transportation

This gallery has on display airplanes from the early years of air transporation including the Douglas M-2 a large biplane, the Pitcairn PA-5 Mailwing designed to carry mail along the eastern United States, the Ford 5-AT Tri-Motor, affectionately known as the "Tin Goose", the largest passenger plane in America when it went into service in 1925, and other notable aircraft.

Gallery 103 -- Flight Simulator Zone

This innovative simulator allows museum visitors to fly some of the aircraft that are on display in the museum including the Spirit of St. Louis, P-51 Mustang, and Mitsubishi Zero.

Gallery 105 -- Golden Age of Flight

The Golden Age of Flight is the period between World War I and World War II. During this period air race pilots and aeorbatic flyers were prominently featured in news reels and in the press. This exhibition gathers together the memorobilia -- air race tickets, programs, and trophies -- and presents them along with some of the aircraft that became famous during this period of aviation.

Gallery 106 -- Jet Aviation

This gallery focuses on the early era of jet aviation. The exhibit takes the visitor through the early history of jet aviation, and explains how jet engines work.

Gallery 107 -- Early Flight

Using a 1913 tradeshow as a backdrop, this exhibit takes the visitor through the early history of aviation in the context of 1913. Labels on items in the exhibit are written to give the visitor a sense of how the early innovators of flight were first introduced to the public.

Gallery 108 -- Welcome Center

Entering from the Independence Ave. entrance the visitor cannot help but be overwhelmed by the two murals that dominate the lobby of the museum. Space Mural -- A Cosmic View, painted by Robert McCall in 1976. The other mural Earth Flight Environment, was painted by Eric Sloane. Overhead is the Voyager, which completed the first nonstop, non-refueled flight around the world in 1986. The information services desk is also located here.

Gallery 109 -- How Things Fly

How things fly takes the visitor through a series of exhibits that explain how baloons, animals, airplanes, and spacecraft fly. The gallery also includes a resource center.

Gallery 110 -- Looking at Earth

For centuries people have looked up at the sky. This gallery allows visitors the unique opportunity to look down at planet earth find out how this has helped us better understand our planet. The exhibit includes examples of satellite imagery and aerial photography and shows how these are used for urban planning, geology and more.

Gallery 111 -- Explore the Universe

This exhibit takes the visitor through multiple views of our universe. From using the naked eye, to optical telescopes, to digital telescopes like the Hubble Space telescope, and XRay observatories. This exhibit, using the various views revisits many questions including: How old is the universe? How big is it? And others.

Gallery 112 -- Lunar Explorartion Vehicles

Before we went to the moon, we sent unmanned lunar probes to map and take pictures of the moon. This exhibit has some of those probes on display and an Apollo Lunar Module.

Gallery 113 -- Earth Today

This gallery contains two exhibits: Earth Today and Rocketry and Spaceflight. Earth Today explains how using near real time imagery we are coming to a better understanding of the world we live in. Rocketry and Spaceflight explains how we have worked toward the goal of exploring space by tracing rockets and engines from the self-moving and combusting egg escribed by Syrian scholar Hassan-er-Rammah in 1280 to the spacesuits of modern day.

Gallery 114 Space Race

The Space Race was born out of the cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States. This exhibit examines how the space race encompassed more than just the race to the moon including the military origins of the space race, spy satellites, and space stations.

Gallery 203 -- Sea-Air Operations

When you step into this gallery you leave land and climb aboard the USS Smithsonian, CVM-76, a simulated aircraft carrier. Here the visitor can walk across the quarterdeck, visit the storage and repair area, and climb to the bridge. On display are some of the aircraft that have flown on aircraft carriers over the years.

Gallery 205 -- World War II Aviation

This gallery memorializes the men and aircraft of World War II.

Gallery 206 -- Legend, Memory and the Great War in the Air

The Great War -- World War I, brought with it a great number of contradictions and legends about the men and their flying machines. This exhibit examines the contradictions and stories and realities and tries to place them into the proper perspective of the time.

Gallery 207 -- Exploring the Planets

This exhibit takes the visitor through the exploration of the planets from the early Greeks, Galileo, to the modern day where we use probes, airborne and orbital telescopes and other tools. The exhibit also examines our solar system, comparing the planets, and explores comets, what they are and what they can tell us.

Gallery 208 -- Pioneers of Flight

This exhibit introduces the visitor to the pioneers of flight that have made many of the firsts of flight including the first transcontinental flight by Carl Rogers in 1911, the first non-stop transcontinental flight by US Army Air Service Lieutenant's Oakley G. Kelly and John A. Macready, the first flight around the world, to more recent times when in 1991 Penny Wagstaff became the first woman to win the US National Aerobatic Championship.

Gallery 209 -- The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age

On December 17, 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright were the first men to achieve flight using an engine powered heavier than air machine. This exhibit examines who the Wright brothers were, their contribution to flight and the beginning of the aerial age.

Gallery 210 -- Apollo to the Moon

"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project...will be more exciting, or more impressive to mankind, or more important...and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish...." -- This address by President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to a race to the moon. This exhibition takes the visitor through the history that led to Neil Armstrong to finally set foot on the moon and his now famous quote: "That's one small step for man. One giant leap for mankind."

Gallery 213 -- Beyond the Limits

This gallery houses two exhibits: Beyond the Limits and GPS: A New Constellation. Beyond the Limits examines how the computer changed the aircraft and aerospace designers ability to build newer, faster, and more complex crafts. GPS: A New Constellation examines how the Global Positioning System has changed the way we navigate our planet. The visitor is taken through the history of GPS, how it works, and how it helps us navigate.

Text by Thaddeus O. Cooper
© Copyright Thaddeus O. Cooper 1996-2004 All Rights Reserved