The Smithsonian has announced plans to revitalize the National Air and Space Museum and transform its exhibitions. The project, which will take approximately seven years, will be done on a phased sequencing schedule that will keep many exhibitions open during the construction process.
The building will undergo complete refacing along with other repairs and improvements. The visitor experience will also change when all of the museum’s 23 galleries and presentation spaces are updated or completely redone.
The Smithsonian estimates the total cost of the building revitalization will be about $650 million. In addition, the museum will raise the $250 million it needs for new exhibitions through private sources.
“Transformation of exhibitions begins a new era for the museum,” said Gen. J.R. “Jack” Dailey, the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the National Air and Space Museum. “We’re developing innovative ways to experience America’s favorite museum through exhibitions that merge modern technology and design to highlight legendary aircraft and spacecraft.”
Dividing the work into two separate stages beginning in summer 2018, will allow the museum to remain open to the millions of people who visit every year. More than 350 million people have visited the landmark museum since it opened July 1, 1976.
Construction will begin on the west side of the museum, which houses nine exhibitions, some of which have not significantly changed since the building’s opening 41 years ago. To safeguard artifacts during construction, most will be moved to a new state-of-the-art collections storage facility currently under construction near the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
Many exhibitions will be refreshed but retain current themes, and others will be completely replaced. The exhibitions throughout the museum will be grouped by theme to allow for easier way finding and a better visitor experience.
“The icons people associate with the National Air and Space Museum are as inspiring today as they were when they made history,” said Peter Jakab, chief curator.
When the new exhibitions begin to open in 2021, visitors will see favorite artifacts presented in new settings, such as the Apollo 11 command module Columbia, which will be housed in a custom-designed, climate-controlled case as the centerpiece of the “Destination Moon” exhibition.
Recently captured 3-D digital photography of calculations and notes made by the crew inside Columbia will be shown alongside the artifact, revealing interior components of the module that would otherwise remain hidden to the public.
To learn more about the project, visit airandspace.si.edu/reimagine.
The National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport.
Both facilities are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free, but there is a $15 fee for parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center.