National Air and Space Museum
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Located along Independence Avenue and 6th Street, SW Washington, DC, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum houses twenty-three galleries, showcasing rockets, spacecrafts, different aircrafts, and other flight-related antiquities. It opened its doors to the public in 1946 as the National Air Museum, and in 1976 opened the main building on the National Mall near L’Enfant Plaza.
Since its establishment 73 years ago, the museum acts as a center for research into the history of spaceflight, aviation, terrestrial geology and planetary science. You’re free to visit any time as the museum is always open, except on the 25th of December. The museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 5:30 pm, and remains closed on Sunday.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center that was added next to Dulles Airport houses artifacts in an open hangar setup, including a space shuttle and a lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.
To make your visit memorable, we’ve compiled a list of the items you should explore and what you should do when you visit the National Air and Space Museum in the capital.
Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 Spacesuit
On display is the space suit used by Neil Armstrong when he landed on the moon. The suit recently underwent extensive conservation process, and is back on display in the Wright Brothers gallery close to the flyer that he carried when he first set foot on the moon.
The 1903 Wright Flyer
The Wright Flyer can be found in the Wright Brothers and The Invention of the Aerial Age section of the museum in Washington, DC. The two siblings invented the world’s first ever powered flying machine. Their invention came after four years of intensive research that began in 1899. For more on the Wright brothers click here.
Simulators and Virtual Reality
In the simulators, you’ll get to fly the combat jets that were used in World War I. You’ll enjoy 360-degree rolls the way pilots do, but in a controlled setting.You’ll experience riding the capsule (ride simulator), the motion-based virtual reality space adventure and experience the thrill of being part of the space mission. More about the simulators can be found here.
The Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory
Using the Hubble Space Telescope , you’ll get to view the sun, stars and the other terrestrial objects in space. Located in the southeast terrace, and to the corner of Independence Avenue, the observatory offers more hands-on astronomy activities if the weather doesn’t allow you to use the solar telescope. But it offers you a memorable DC experience through the lens of a technological masterpiece.
Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater
In this theater, you’ll get to watch documentary films on a five-story high HD screen. Among the common films aired here is ‘How Things Fly’ and other demonstrations like the landing on the moon and space shuttle discovery.
The Apollo 11 Command Module Colombia
This is the only part of the Apollo 11 spaceship to return to . It is on display in the museum and you’ll be allowed to touch one of the lunar rocks brought back by the astronauts during the 1972 Apollo 17.
Best Time to Visit the Museum
In Washington, March to July are the busiest times of the year. With schools letting out and spring break, many families and schools visit. This translates to longer queues and crowding. Saturdays are also busy. It’s better to schedule your visits earlier in the week. Tuesdays at 10 am when the museum doors open is the best time to visit. If you don’t like crowds consider visiting during the off-peak season.
With a lot of activities to do and see, we recommend giving yourself at least two hours to explore what the museum has to offer. But before you visit the museum, here’s what you should know:
- Give yourself enough time to visit the exhibitions
- Limit the amount of luggage you carry since all visitors are screened when entering different sites. The fewer items you carry, the less time you’ll spend at the security checkpoints
- Wear comfortable clothing because a visit to the museum involves a lot of walking
- Take advantage of the free WIFI
- Only bottled water is allowed within the premises
- Use the escalators to avoid fatigue
- A small number of non-motorized wheelchairs are available
- Print or download the museum maps and guides
- Security officers are available to help you when in need
- Take photos!
While in downtown D.C. be sure to check out the Lincoln Memorial as well, an iconic staple of the DC area.