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National Air and Space Museum Highlights Nation's Progress in Flight

Dec 11, 2007
A key part of the Smithsonian Institution that student group travelers to Washington, D.C., will want to take in, is the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. With hundreds of original, historic artifacts on display, including the Wright 1903 Flyer; the Spirit of St. Louis; the Apollo 11 command module Columbia; and a Lunar rock sample that visitors can touch, the Museum will captivate students and visitors for hours on end.

There are some 22 exhibition galleries in the Museum, including an IMAX theater, flight simulators, a three-level shop, and a food-court-style restaurant.

A favorite gallery, "How Things Fly," includes science demonstrations; paper airplane contests; and interactive devices. Another feature is the "Early Flight" gallery, which highlights some of the earliest notions of flying through the first decade of powered flight.

Visitors can also see the original 1903 Wright Flyer and 170 other related artifacts in a special exhibition, "The Wright Brothers & The Invention of the Aerial Age."The Flyer will eventually be returned to its usual hanging position in the Milestones of Flight gallery.

The history of human space exploration is detailed in two exhibitions, one being "Space Race," which includes artifacts such as the V2 ballistic missile, a full-size Hubble Space Telescope test vehicle, and the backup Skylab space station that visitors can walk through.

The story of America's effort to land a human on the Moon is told in "Apollo to the Moon," where the original space suits worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon are on display.

The Museum on the National Mall also features several exhibitions covering Earth and planetary studies. "Looking at Earth" shows visitors how views of the planet from above have helped provide better understanding of the Earth. Examples of satellite imagery and aerial photography are on display.

The "Exploring the Planets" exhibit highlights the history and achievements of planetary explorations, both Earth-based and by spacecraft. On display is a full-scale replica of the Voyager spacecraft which traveled to the outer planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

Another display, "Explore the Universe," demonstrates the various methods used by humankind to observe the skies throughout the ages, starting with the naked eye, through telescopes, and finally into the digital age.

A view of the Tycho Armillary Sphere reproduction is on display in "Explore the Universe." The Sphere was built by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in the late 1500s to study the sky and to teach about the celestial coordinate system.

A companion facility to the Museum on the National Mall is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport, which provides additional exhibit space.

The center, named in honor of its major donor, features the large Boeing Aviation Hangar in which aircraft are displayed on three levels. Visitors can walk among aircraft and small artifacts in display cases and view aircraft hanging from the arched ceiling on elevated skywalks. Many engines, helicopters, ultra-lights, and experimental flying machines are on display in a museum setting for the first time. Among the aviation artifacts on display are the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest jet in the world; the Boeing Dash 80, the prototype of the 707; the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay; and the deHavilland Chipmunk aerobatic airplane.

The James S. McDonnell Space Hangar opened in November 2004 and displays hundreds of famous spacecraft, rockets, satellites and space-related small artifacts. The centerpiece of the space hangar is the Space Shuttle Enterprise. Other space artifacts include the Gemini VII space capsule; the Mobile Quarantine Unit used upon the return of the Apollo 11 crew; and a Redstone rocket.

The Donald D. Engen Observation Tower provides an excellent location from which visitors can watch air traffic at Dulles Airport.

The Center also offers an IMAX Theater; flight simulators; food service; a museum store; free docent tours; daily educational programs; and school group tours.

A special feature of the Center is the National Aviation and Space Exploration Wall of Honor, a permanent memorial to the thousands of people who contributed to aviation and space exploration.
About the Author
travel adventures Travel Adventures is staffed by educators who understand the needs of teachers. Serving over one half million students since our inception, we provide hassle-free travel arrangements while empowering teachers to create change by expanding the classroom to the world.
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