WASHINGTON — The popular National Air and Space Museum in Washington on the National Mall has partially reopened, after being closed for almost seven months, with a new look and new exhibits.
Among them, a historical look at The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age, and Exploring the Planets.
Rather than an assortment of objects spread out across the museum, larger exhibitions tell in-depth stories on everything from commercial passenger flight in the past to today’s delivery drones.
“There’s a gallery that shows the importance of using drones and airplanes for the greater good,” said Jeremy Kinney, the museum’s associate director for research and curatorial affairs.
Orbis Flying Eye Hospital Surgery Simulator. Orbis International’s Flying Eye Hospital is an ophthalmic teaching hospital on board an airplane, which is outfitted with exam and treatment rooms, an operating center and classrooms. (Deborah Block/VOA)
These include drones that deliver food packages to the Amazon, and a commercial airliner, converted into an eye-surgery hospital, that travels around the world to developing countries.
The National Air and Space Museum, which first opened its doors 46 years ago, was upgraded to include eight new exhibitions, hundreds of new artifacts, and 50 digital interactive exhibits – with the aim of making it more modern and engaging.
It’s an experience that reflects the 21st century, bringing people into the digital age,” Kinney said.
That includes an interactive tour of the solar system.
In the planets gallery, visitors take an immersive trip through the solar system to get a close-up look at the surface of planets and asteroids on a large scale. (Deborah Block/VOA)
“The planets gallery is a fully immersive journey through our solar system, stopping at different locations, and seeing what that looks like on a large scale,” Kinney said. “You learn about the surface of different planets and asteroids. It almost feels like you’re walking on them.”
Visitor Taylor Brautigan, 18, looked at some of the artifacts in the gallery and then watched the seven-minute video on a huge screen.
“Wow, it was fantastic to see how different the planets are, and it made me want to find out more about them,” she said.
Kinney said that’s the kind of reaction the museum is hoping for.
“We want young people to connect with the artifacts and the stories we tell about them,” he said, “so when they get home, they will want to learn more about the history and importance of the objects.”
Visitors can see favorite artifacts in new settings that tell compelling stories past and present.
The original Wright Flyer, invented by the Wright Brothers, is the first powered and piloted aircraft. The first flight lasted for 12 seconds at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903. (Deborah Block/VOA)
They include the 1903 Wright Flyer, the first powered and piloted mechanical aircraft.
Ahmed Chaudry, who had traveled from Pakistan to visit relatives in Washington, said he had looked forward to seeing the aircraft.
“The exhibit explains the background behind the Wright Brothers and what they went through to build the plane,” he said. “They only flew it for 12 seconds the first time, but it was incredible they were able to do that.”
The Destination Moon exhibit shows icons of space history, including the Apollo 11 command module, Columbia, and the spacesuit astronaut Neil Armstrong wore during the journey to the moon. Armstrong, who was first man to walk on the moon, uttered the famous line, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, carried three astronauts to the moon on the first lunar landing mission in July, 1969. (Deborah Block/VOA)
Items used in film and video are also included in the museum, including the fictional X-Wing Starfighter used in a Star Wars movie, and the prosthetic ear tips made for Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek series.
More accomplishments by women and people of color are incorporated than were in the past.
Highlights include the air racer constructed by Neal Loving, the first African American to be licensed as a racing pilot, and a supersonic jet trainer flown by Jackie Cochran, the first woman to break the sound barrier.
The museum also shows the discrimination they faced, though.
“Our goal is to tell the whole history of air and space which also includes gender and race discrimination,” said Kinney.
That includes women who were qualified, but denied entry into the space program, and Black people who were allowed on commercial passenger planes but not in some airports because of the color of their skin.
A renovation of the National Museum of Air and Space in Washington began in 2018, with the rest of the museum set to open in 2025.
The museum, along with its companion facility in Chantilly, Virginia, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, contains the world’s largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft.