There’s nothing more disappointing than finding your most eagerly anticipated tourist sight or experience covered in scaffolding and men at work signs. This then is exactly what awaited me as I, who suffers from a life long love and admiration for all things aeronautical, shuffled across the National Mall to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, having just spent the last couple of hours wandering through the halls of the incredible National Museum of American History. Clearly then the grey skies, dripping trees, and puddles of fresh rain water on the concrete perfectly suited that very moment when I turned the corner and discovered my eagerly awaited unicorn under all the cranes, scaffolding, and hard hat signs.
Of course, just because massive swathes of its space is closed for renovation, it doesn’t mean that the museum has entirely shut up shop, and so I joined the throng of excited visitors, cleared through security, and stepped into the impressive Milestones of Flight entrance hall, decked out with an incredible array of historical aircraft, including gems like the Spirit of St Louis, the Bell X-1, SpaceShipOne, and even the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia!
From there I wandered through the interactive, kid-focused How Things Fly exhibit, followed by a jaw-dropping walk about the Space Race floor that is devoted to all things rockets, including the infamous German V-2 rocket. Next to that was a hall dedicated to exploring the universe, examining solar systems and the instruments that we have developed to better study it, and across the passage, the Moving Beyond Earth immersive exhibition that places you “in orbit” as part of the shuttle and space-station era – allowing you to explore recent human spaceflight and future possibilities.
At the time of my visit, the only halls open on the second floor included one looking at the origin of powered flight through the lens of the Wright Brothers and their 1903 Wright Flyer, and another that focuses on Time and Navigation, detailing how revolutions in timekeeping over the years have influenced how we find our way. Hello GPS!
And unfortunately that was that. With about half of its floor space lost to the ongoing renovations, and almost the entirety of its collection of planes now stored at the museum’s secondary Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in nearby Virginia, this particular museum experience, while as incredibly interesting and engaging as what it was, just didn’t have what I was really looking forward to seeing the most: airplanes! (Spoiler alert though – the very last thing that I did manage to do on this particular USA 2019 business trip as I waited for my plane to depart from Dulles International Airport, was catch a bus to a certain spot in Virginia…)
So even in its current diminished form, the National Air and Space Museum remains an incredible archive of all things space and aeronautical (with a current slant definitely in favour of space exploration), and thus a definite must visit if these are the things that do tickle your fancy. That said, just be sure to also make time to visit its annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in nearby Virginia, to get the FULL experience of what this amazing museum truly has on offer!