National Air and Space Museum

October 23, 2023
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Director: Christopher Browne
Total Full-Time Employees: 323
Annual Budget (federal and trust) FY 2022: $43 million
Approximate Number of Artifacts in the Collection: 68,378
Approximate Number of Artifacts on Display at the Museum in Washington: 633 aviation, 280 space and 43 art
Visitors (2022): 1.5 million (National Mall building and Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia)


The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is one of the world’s most popular museums with more than 1.5 million visitors in 2022. Its mission is to commemorate, educate and inspire visitors by preserving and displaying aeronautical and spaceflight artifacts. The museum maintains the world’s largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft among more than 68,000 objects and serves the public through exhibitions, public programs, educational activities, publications and electronic outreach. It is also a vital center for historical research on aviation and spaceflight and related science and technology, and home to the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, which performs original research and outreach activities in planetary sciences.

The museum has two public display facilities. The flagship building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., which opened in July 1976, houses many of the icons of flight, including the original 1903 Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1, John Glenn’s Friendship 7 spacecraft and a lunar rock sample that visitors can touch. The museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Virginia, opened in December 2003 and houses many more artifacts in an open, hangar-like setting, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, the Dash 80 prototype for the Boeing 707, the sole-surviving Boeing 307 Stratoliner and space shuttle Discovery.

In late 2018, the museum began an approximately seven-year complete renovation of the National Mall building. All 23 galleries and public spaces are being completely transformed to present the story of flight in exciting and engaging new ways. The first phase of the renovation, which included eight exhibitions, opened on the west wing of the building in October 2022. The remaining galleries on the east end of the building will remain closed while renovated and will reopen in phases. The museum’s website will be updated with current timings of those projected openings.

Research and Collections

  • Aeronautics Department—The Aeronautics Department is responsible for research, collections, organization of exhibitions and public service relating to the history of flight in the atmosphere. Research efforts encompass the technological, military, political, economic, social and material culture aspects of human flight. Research is disseminated in scholarly and popular publications, exhibitions and a wide range of public programs. Aeronautics Division staff collect and study historic and technologically significant aircraft, as well as a myriad of related equipment and cultural memorabilia. These artifacts comprise both exhibition and study collections.
  • Space History Department—The Space History Department is a focal point for the space-related collecting, historical research and exhibit work of the museum. Curators and historians within the department write, lecture, collect artifacts and prepare exhibitions in the following fields: rocketry, computers and avionics, human spaceflight, satellites and commercial spacecraft, military space, space science, ground- and space-based planetary science and astronomy, and foreign space programs.
  • Center for Earth and Planetary Studies—Established in 1973, the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies uses a collection of more than 300,000 photographs and images of the Earth, moon and planets in research related to planetary and terrestrial geology—many obtained from Earth-orbiting satellites and manned and unmanned space missions. Staff research activities include planetary geology, geophysics and geologic mapping of planetary surfaces, geomorphology and surface dynamics in arid and semi-arid regions of the Earth and comparative studies of volcanic and tectonic landforms on the Earth and other terrestrial planets.
  • Collections Department—The Collections Department of the National Air and Space Museum is located primarily at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The division consists of the Collections Department Administrative Section, the Preservation and Restoration Unit, the Conservation Unit and the Office of the Registrar. The Collections Department is responsible for the protection, preservation, conservation and restoration of the National Collection of Aeronautics and Space Artifacts in perpetuity; it is responsible for guaranteeing physical care of the collections.
  • Archives—The Archives at the National Air and Space Museum is responsible for document, film and photograph collections relating to the history and technology of aviation and aerospace. The document collections include more than 2 million aircraft engineering drawings from the 1890s to the 1970s, either on microfilm or in paper format, and numerous technical manuals, manuscript collections and scrapbooks, as well as other photo collections. Written inquiries from the public are welcome. Researchers may visit the Archives to conduct their own research by appointment.

Exhibitions and Galleries

  • “One World Connected”—This new exhibition tells the story of how flight fostered two momentous changes in everyday life: the ease in moving people, voices and images across vast distances and a new perspective of Earth as humanity’s home. Featuring an array of communications satellites and other tools that have increased human connection, the exhibition asks visitors to consider how interconnection touches their lives and to imagine how advances in technology might impact the near-future.
  • “Thomas W. Haas We All Fly”—This new exhibition celebrates general aviation by telling the story of its many aspects in the United States and how it affects the average visitor’s daily life. It will cover diverse themes, including sport, private, business, humanitarian and utility flight. The exhibition will strive to inspire the next generation of pilots and reveal the diversity of career opportunities available in general aviation, beyond jobs in the cockpit.
  • “The Wright Brothers and The Invention of the Aerial Age”—The reimagined exhibition shows who Wilbur and Orville Wright were, what they achieved and how they did it, and how the world first reacted to their revolutionary invention. At the center of the story and the heart of the gallery is the 1903 Wright Flyer, one of the most iconic artifacts in the Smithsonian’s collection.
  • “America by Air”—This reimagined version of the popular “America by Air” exhibition explores the origins of the airline industry, beginning with the U.S. Postal System following World War I through to the creation of jet propulsion, which changed the ease with which Americans traveled throughout the country and world. The exhibition also investigates how the commercial aviation field changed with more affordable travel for passengers and how diversity changed airline personnel.
  • “Kenneth C. Griffin Exploring the Planets Gallery”—This gallery tells the stories of how exploration has revealed that the solar system is filled with amazingly diverse places that transform people’s understanding of Earth and worlds beyond. Highlights include a full-scale model of the Voyager spacecraft, the Mars Curiosity rover and an immersive experience called “Walking on Other Worlds.”
  • ”Destination Moon”—this exhibition tells the story of lunar exploration from ancient dreams to the missions happening today. In other words, it is not just the moon race. Highlights include the Apollo 11 command module Columbia, Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit, Alan Shepard’s Mercury spacesuit and a Saturn V F-1 rocket engine. “Nation of Speed”+—this new exhibition explores the deep-rooted connection between people and machines through the history they made together. The story of speed is central to the understanding of transportation, motorsports and the military in American history and culture. “Nation of Speed” is a collaboration between the National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
  • “Early Flight”—this exhibition explores how, between the first flights at Kitty Hawk and the opening guns of World War I, the design and construction of aircraft and engines became a global industrial enterprise, which promised to exercise enormous impact on society, politics and culture in war and peace. Highlights include the 1909 Wight Military Flyer, the Blériot XI and the Lilienthal Glider.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Unlike the building in Washington, D.C., which features traditional exhibitions, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center houses artifacts in an enhanced open-storage design filling two huge connecting structures: the Boeing Aviation Hangar and the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar. There are 1,989 aviation, 931 space and 105 art objects on display. Attractions include the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, the Airbus IMAX Theater and the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar.

About the Museum

The National Air and Space Museum’s Mall building is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. Free timed-entry passes are required to visit the museum on the National Mall and can be reserved through the museum’s website. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Virginia, off of Route 28 near Washington Dulles International Airport. Both facilities are open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free, but there is a $15 fee for parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center before 4 p.m.


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