Editor’s note: This story has been updated
After a four-year closure due to an ongoing $1 billion renovation project to be completed in 2024, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., will reopen half of its flagship building this fall. It will welcome visitors back with eight new exhibitions on Oct. 14.
Although tickets are free, guests must obtain timed-entry tickets to the museum, which are available online as of Sept. 14. At the time of publication, there were tickets left for the second half of October and all of November.
Free timed-entry passes are available hourly from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., with same-day passes released daily starting at 8:30 a.m.
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Museumgoers will get the chance to see both new artifacts and fan favorites later this year.
Exhibits include the plane Jacqueline Cochran flew as the first woman to break the sound barrier in 1953; the Sharp DR 90 Nemesis air racer, known for being the most successful aircraft in air racing history; the Apollo 11 command module Columbia, used to help land humans on the Moon for the first time; Sean Tucker’s custom-built aerobatic biplane; and the 1903 Wright Flyer airplane.
“The Apollo 11 command module Columbia will be housed in a custom-designed, climate-controlled case as the centerpiece of the ‘Destination Moon’ exhibition alongside Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit,” the museum said in a press release Aug. 2.
“The 1903 Wright Flyer will be displayed in a dynamic new environment that better tells the story of the invention of flying and its implication on world history.”
“Star Wars” movie fans will be especially excited to see the full-size X-Wing Starfighter from “The Rise of Skywalker” on display for the first time.
The Northrop T-38 Talon and the Extra 260 hang together in the renovated west end of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. JIM PRESTON/NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM
“Many years ago when I first moved to the area and visited the museum for the first time, I remember being particularly drawn to the Apollo 11 command module, which I’m really glad they kept,” TPG editor Christine Gallipeau said. “Since I grew up in Florida by the Kennedy Space Center, anything space shuttle- or rocket-themed is super interesting to me.”
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AvGeeks, in particular, may be drawn to several of the displays unveiled later this year.
“America by Air” is an interactive exhibit examining the history of U.S. air transportation and how the experience of flying has changed over time. “Early Flight” uses artifacts — such as the Lilienthal Glider, 1909 Wright Military Flyer and the Bleriot XI — to explore what happened in aviation between the Wright brothers’ first flights in 1903 and the start of World War I in 1914.
If you are especially interested in the Wright brothers — who are known as the architects of the world’s first successful airplane — consider visiting a second exhibit on the duo. “The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age” features the return of the 1903 Wright Flyer, one of the museum’s most famous artifacts.
A view inside the nearly finished “Early Flight” exhibition, which will be part of the reopening on Oct. 14. NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM
Space fans can enjoy the “Kenneth C. Griffin Exploring the Planets Gallery,” which is an exploratory exhibit of planets and moons, drawing on research from the museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies.
“This is one of the most exciting times in the National Air and Space Museum’s history,” Chris Browne, the John and Adrienne Mars director of the museum, said in a statement. “When we open the first reimagined galleries, we hope all visitors are inspired by artifacts on display for the first time, favorite icons of aerospace presented in new ways and diverse storytelling.”
In addition to the eight new and renovated exhibitions, the museum will reopen the planetarium with new screencast abilities, connecting the planetarium to others around the country. Mars Cafe will also open.
Since 2018, the museum has been renovating all 23 exhibitions and presentation spaces, updating the exterior and making other repairs to the building.
The west end of the museum will open for now as the other renovations continue; these renovations are expected to last through 2025. As renovations continue, other parts of the museum — including additional galleries, the Imax theater and a new entrance in 2024 — are expected to gradually reopen. The eastern side of the building will follow in 2025.
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Featured photo courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum.