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The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) of the Smithsonian Institutionmarker is a museum in Washington, D.C.marker, United Statesmarker, and is the most popular of the Smithsonian museums. It maintains the largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It is also a vital center for research into the history, science, and technology of aviation and spaceflight, as well as planetary science and terrestrial geology and geophysics. Almost all space and aircraft on display are originals or backup crafts to the originals.

Because of the museum site's close proximity to the United States Capitolmarker, the Smithsonian Institutionmarker wanted a building that would be architecturally impressive but would not stand out too boldly against the Capitol Building. St. Louismarker-based architect Gyo Obata of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum accepted the challenge and designed the museum as four simple marble-encased cubes containing the smaller and more theatrical exhibits, connected by three spacious steel-and-glass atria which house the larger exhibits such as missiles, airplanes and spacecraft. The massing of the museum echoes the National Gallery of Artmarker across the National Mallmarker, and uses the same pink Tennessee marble as the National Gallery. Built by Gilbane Building Company, the museum was completed in 1976. The west glass wall of the building is used for the installation of airplanes, functioning as a giant door.

Restoration facility

The museum's total collection numbers over 30,000 aviation-related and 9,000 space-related artifacts, and is thus larger than will fit in the main hall. Many of the aircraft are at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration, and Storage Facility , also sometimes referred to as the "Silver Hill facility", in Suitland-Silver Hill, Marylandmarker. The facility was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in 1952 as a storage location for the growing collection of aircraft. It is named for Paul E. Garber, former curator of the collection, and it consists of 31 buildings.

The facility once was open for touring, but all exhibition items are being moved to the museum annex.

Other facilities

The Museum's archives are divided between the main exhibition building on the Mall and the Garber facility in Suitland. The collections include personal and professional papers, corporate records, and other collections assembled by topic.

The Museum includes the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies (CEPS), which conducts geological and geophysical research related to all the planets in the solar system. CEPS participates in programs that involve remote-sensing satellites and unmanned probes.

The museum also has a research library, at the site of the main museum building.


Originally called the National Air Museum when it was formed on August 12 1946 by an act of Congress, some pieces in the National Air and Space Museum collection date back to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphiamarker after which the Chinese Imperial Commission donated a group of kites to the Smithsonian. The Stringfellow steam engine intended for aircraft was accessioned into 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. Some pieces were on display in the Arts and Industries Buildingmarker, some were stored in a shed in the Smithsonian's South Yard that came to be known as the "Air and Space Building", and the larger missiles and rockets were displayed outdoors in "Rocket Row."

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 the 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 Belvoirmarker and prefabricated buildings from the United States Navy kept the initial costs low.

The space race in the 1950s and 1960s led to the renaming of the Museum to the "National Air and Space Museum", and finally congressional passage of appropriations for the construction of the new exhibition hall , which opened July 1 1976 at the height of the United States Bicentennial festivities.The Steven F.marker Udvar-Hazy Centermarker opened in 2003, funded by a private donation.

The museum will receive several artifacts, including a former camera, that were removed from the Hubble Space Telescope and returned to Earth after Space Shuttle mission STS-125, which was Hubble Service Mission 4. The museum also holds the backup mirror for the Hubble which, unlike the one that was launched, was ground to the correct shape. There were once plans for it to receive the Hubble itself, but plans to return it to Earth were scrapped after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003; the mission was re-considered as too risky.

The Smithsonian has also been promised the International Cometary Explorer, which is currently in a solar orbit that occasionally brings it back to Earth, should NASA attempt to recover it.


Carl W. Mitman was the first head of the museum, under the title of Assistant to the Secretary for the National Air Museum, heading the museum from 1946 until his retirement from the Smithsonian in 1952.

The following have been, or acted as, Director of the museum:

  • Philip S. Hopkins, 1958-1964
  • S. Paul Johnston, 1964-1969
  • Frank A. Taylor (acting), 1969-1971
  • Michael Collins, 1971-1978;
  • Melvin B. Zisfein (acting), 1978-1979
  • Noel W. Hinners, 1979-1982
  • Walter J. Boyne (acting 1982–1983, director 1983-1986)
  • James C. Tyler (acting), 1986-1987
  • Martin O. Harwit, 1987-1995
  • Donald D. Engen, 1996-1999
  • John R. Dailey, 2000-present


Controversy erupted in 1994 over a proposed commemorating the atomic bombing of Japanmarker on its 50th anniversary. The centerpiece of the exhibit was the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the A-bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Veterans’ groups, backed by some Congressmen, argued strongly that the exhibit’s inclusion of Japanese accounts and photographs of victims insulted airmen. Also disputed was the predicted number of fatal US casualties that would have resulted from an invasion of Japan, had that been necessary. In the end, the museum’s director, Martin O. Harwit, was forced to resign, and the exhibit was radically reduced to “the most diminished display in Smithsonian history."

Scientific clarity

Throughout the museum's displays, the Air and Space Museum presents all thrust levels for rocket and jet engines in mass units (kilogram or pound) rather than force units (Newton or pounds-force). This usage is at odds with common scientific/engineering practice presented in pie NASA SP 7012.


Image:Mercury Friendship 7.jpg|Mercury Friendship 7 spacecraftImage:National Air and Space Museum Rockets.JPG|Soviet SS-20 and U.S. Pershing II rocketsImage:Smithsonian_Institute_National_Air_and_Space_Museum_Lunar_Sample.JPG|Moon rock from Apollo 17 mission, for visitors to touchImage:Nasm_fg01.jpg|Space suitFile:Apollo 15 Space Suit David Scott.jpg|The space suit worn by David Scott on Apollo 15.Image:Surveyor3camera.jpg|The Surveyor 3 camera.Image:Vanguard TV3.jpg|Vanguard TV-3 satelliteImage:ApolloLunarModule.JPG|Apollo Lunar Module LM-2Image:NationalAirAndSpaceMuseum 10290004.jpg|Intercontinental ballistic missilesImage:Pioneer H.JPG|Pioneer HImage:Spaceship One Other Angle.JPG|SpaceShipOneImage:Nasm_fg02.jpg|Flight simulatorImage:NASM Tri Motor.jpg|Ford TrimotorImage:Nasm_fg04.jpg|Spirit of St. LouisImage:Ss1 smithsonian.jpg|Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis is in the top rightImage:Spirit-St.Louis.jpg|The Spirit of St. Louis.Image:Air and Space Planes.jpg|Ford TrimotorImage:Voyager Aircraft.JPG|Rutan VoyagerImage:Enteprise_smithsonian.JPG|Original Star Trek production model of the USS Enterprise.Image:Aviation Wings (smithsonian air and space).jpg|Different aviation wings on displayImage:Needle at Air and Space Mus. at D.C.jpg|Ad Astra ("to the stars"), the sculpture at the entrance to the buildingImage:Northwest Boeing 747 Sideview.jpg|Sideview of a former Northwest Boeing 747-100B.Image:Northwest Boeing 747 Nose.jpg|Ground-level view of a former Northwest Boeing 747-100B.Image:Northwest Boeing 747 Landing Gear.jpg|Nose-gear of a former Northwest Boeing 747-100B.Image:Eastern Air Lines DC-3 at Smithsonian.jpg|Former Eastern Douglas DC-3.

Image:./Users/john/Pictures/iPhoto Library/Modified/2009/May 30, 2009_2/FILE0093.JPGjpg|Caption1

In popular media


Today, over 6 million people visit the museum annually.

External links


  • Henderson, Mary. Star Wars: The Magic of Myth. Companion volume to the exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. New York: Bantam, 1997.


  1. National Air and Space Museum - NASM Chronology, Smithsonian Institution
  2. History of the NASM
  3. Finding Aids to Official Records of the Smithsonian Institution, Record Unit 330: Series 1, National Air and Space Museum, Records, 1912-1971
  4. Finding Aids to Official Records of the Smithsonian Institution, Record Unit 338, National Air and Space Museum, Records, circa 1972-1989
  5. National Air and Space Museum, Office of the Director - Agency History
  6. Los Angeles Times, May 3rd, 1995, p. 21 [1]
  7. New York Times, Aug. 6th, 1995

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