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Sep 07

The National Air and Space Museum

The National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall houses famous icons of flight: the original Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, SpaceShipOne, the Apollo 11 command module and a touchable lunar rock. Free interactive activities for kids. IMAX movies, planetarium shows, flight simulators (fee).

Summer hours are 10 am – 7:30 pm (5:30 after Sept 7).

The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, also called the NASM, is a museum in Washington, D.C. It holds the largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It was established in 1946 as the National Air Museum and opened its main building near L’Enfant Plaza and 2014, the museum saw approximately 6.7 million visitors, making it the fifth most visited museum in the world.

The National Air and Space Museum is a center for research into the history and science of aviation and spaceflight, as well as planetary science and terrestrial geology and geophysics. Almost all space and aircraft on display are originals or backups to the originals. It operates an annex, the Steven F. Udvar- Hazy Center, at Dulles International Airport, which opened in 2003 and itself encompasses 760,000 Square feet (71,000 m2). The museum currently conducts restoration of its collection at the Paul E. Garbaer Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland, while steadily moving such restoration and archival activities into its Udvar-Hazy annex facilities as of 2014. The museum’s prominent site on the National Mall once housed the city’s armory, and during the Civil War, Armory Square Hospital nursed the worst wounded cases who were transported to Washington after battles.

The Air and Space Museum was originally called the National Air Museum when formed on August 12, 1946, by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Harry S. Truman. Some pieces in the National Air and Space Museum collection date back to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia after which the Chinese Imperial Commission donated a group of kites to the Smithsonian after.

Smithsonian Secretary Spencer Fullerton Baird convinced exhibitors that shipping them home would be too costly. The String fellow steam engine intended for aircraft was added to the collection in 1889, the first piece actively acquired by the Smithsonian now in the current NASM collection.


After the establishment of the museum, there was no one building that could hold all the items to be displayed, many obtained from the United States Army and United States Navy collections of domestic and captured aircraft from World War I. Some pieces were on display in the Arts and Industries Building, some were stored in the Aircraft Building (also known as the “Tin Shed”), a large temporary metal shed in the Smithsonian Castle’s south yard. Larger missiles and rockets were displayed outdoors in what was known as Rocket Row. The shed housed a large Martin bomber, a LePere fighter-bomber, and an Aeromarine 39B floatplane. Still, much of the collection remained in storage due to a lack of display space.

The combination of the large numbers of aircraft donated to the Smithsonian after World War II and the need for hangar and factory space for the Korean War drove the Smithsonian to look for its own facility to store and restore aircraft. The current Garber Facility was ceded to the Smithsonian by Maryland- National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 1952 after the curator Paul E. Garber spotted the wooded area from the air. Bulldozers from Fort Belvoir and prefabricated buildings from the United States Navy kept the initial costs low.

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