Essential Architecture- Washington D.C.

National Museum of Air and Space


Gyo Obata, FAIA; Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum


Washington, DC






stone clad



National Air and Space Museum exterior
The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) of the Smithsonian Institution is a museum in Washington, D.C., United States, 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.

The National Air and Space Museum is widely considered one of Washington's most significant works of modern architecture. Because of the museum site's close proximity to the United States Capitol, the Smithsonian Institution wanted a building that would be architecturally impressive but would not stand out too boldly against the Capitol Building. St. Louis-based architect Gyo Obata of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum accepted the challenge and designed the museum as four simple travertine-encased cubes containing the smaller and more theatrical exhibits, connected by three spacious steel-and-glass atriums which house the larger exhibits such as missiles, airplanes and spacecraft.

Collection and facilities

A variety of aircraft displayed at the National Air and Space Museum. Most notable: Ford Trimotor and Douglas DC-3 (top and second from top)
The main exhibit hall (opened July 4, 1976) is on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between the National Museum of the American Indian and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations of the city. In addition to the rooms filled with historic aircraft and other artifacts, attractions include an IMAX theater and the Albert Einstein Planetarium.

Selected exhibits
The original Wright Flyer that made the first controlled, powered flight in 1903
The Spirit of St. Louis, in which Charles Lindbergh made the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean
The Bell X-1, in which Chuck Yeager made the first powered supersonic level flight
A German V-2 rocket constructed from captured components, the first man-made object to reach space
The Friendship 7 capsule, in which John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth.
The Gemini 4 capsule, which carried America's first spacewalker, Ed White.
The command module of Apollo 11, the first mission to land astronauts on the moon
One of the very few lunar rock samples accessible to the public
A rock from Mars (a meteorite)
A "replica" of Pioneer 10 (actually the functional Pioneer H), the first space probe launched on a trajectory to escape the solar system, and the first to visit Jupiter.
SpaceShipOne, the world's first privately built and piloted vehicle to reach space, built by Burt Rutan.
The original filming model of the starship USS Enterprise from the science fiction television series, Star Trek
The television camera of Surveyor 3, which was brought back from the moon by Apollo 12.

Dulles International Airport Annex

Space Shuttle Enterprise on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
The museum has a larger annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located near Dulles Airport, opened on December 15, 2003. Its plans call for a collection of 900 aircraft[1] with 135 spacecraft on display. The center was made possible by a US$ 65 million gift in October 1999 to the Smithsonian Institution by Steven F. Udvar-Hazy, an immigrant from Hungary and co-founder of the International Lease Finance Corporation.[1] Construction of the Center required fifteen years of preparation.[2]

Select exhibits
The B-29 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay, the airplane which dropped the first atomic bomb, on Hiroshima, Japan
The prototype for the Boeing 707 airliner, known as the Boeing 367-80 or "Dash 80"
An SR-71 Blackbird high-altitude, high-speed strategic reconnaissance aircraft
An Air France Concorde, the famous model of supersonic airliner
The prototype atmospheric test space shuttle Enterprise
The primary special effects miniature of the "Mother Ship" used in the filming of Close Encounters of the Third Kind
The Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, the aircraft which completed the first solo, non-stop, unrefueled circumnavigation of the Earth in early 2005.

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, Maryland. 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 32 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 al 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,[1] some pieces in the National Air and Space Museum collection date back to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia 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 Building, 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 Belvoir 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[citation needed], which opened July 1, 1976.

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opened in 2003, funded by a private donation.

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

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.

^ a b c Small, L. M. "A century's roar and buzz: Thanks to an immigrant's generosity, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opens to the public". In "From the Secretary". Smithsonian. Vol. 34, p. 20.
^ Triplett, W. "Hold everything!" Smithsonian. Vol. 34, December 2003, p. 59.
Coordinates: 38°53′18″N, 77°01′12″W

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