The Air and Space Museum reopens on October 14. “Star Wars” fans should applaud.


An X-wing starfighter from ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ will be among hundreds of new items – including the plane piloted by the first woman to break the sound barrier and a Saturn test engine similar to those used to launch Apollo astronauts to the moon – on display at the National Air and Space Museum when it reopens on October 14.

The reopening of nearly half of the popular museum marks the end of the first phase of its seven-year, $1 billion makeover. Eight of its 23 galleries, an upgraded planetarium, shop and cafe will welcome visitors for the first time since the building closed six months ago. They’ll encounter new artifacts alongside old favorites like the Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module, both featured in new exhibits.

“We are not just reopening the same galleries. We hope people find it a new, engaging and contemporary experience,” said museum director Christopher Browne. “We know the power of this place. It has been a place of inspiration and excitement for countless people and for generations. Not only are we continuing this tradition, but we are taking it forward to an ever-wider audience.

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Museum officials will temporarily require timed passes for entry to control what they expect to be large crowds, Browne said.

New exhibits will tell more stories of women and people of color. In addition to Jacqueline Cochran’s noise-canceling T-38, the museum will display an aircraft built by Neal Loving, who in 1951 became the first African American to hold a racing pilot’s license.

“Our North Star, if you will, in experience design is that we want every visitor to see themselves in the exhibit,” Browne said. “We know the stories we tell resonate, and we know that seeing is believing.”

New artifacts expand the focus beyond aviation and space exploration. A gallery explores the county’s fascination with speed.

“In ‘Nation of Speed,’ we explore how the quest to go faster, whether in an airplane, spacecraft, motorcycle or car, has influenced the American experience,” Browne said. Gallery includes Mario Andretti’s Indy 500 race car, Erin Sills’ BMW land speed record motorcycle and Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel’s motorcycle.

Interactive exhibits and videos have been added for a more modern experience. Next to Knievel’s motorbike, for example, is a pinball game that helps visitors understand the physics behind the daredevil stunts. In the “One World Connected” gallery, a replica of the space station’s cupola offers visitors a view of space from an astronaut’s perspective.

The renovation is the most expensive capital project ever undertaken by the Smithsonian and almost double what it cost to build the $540 million National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016. The Air and Space Building – a massive building that stretches along the Independence Avenue from 4th to 7th Street SW – began in 2018 and was planned in phases to keep the popular museum partially open. (Nevertheless, the museum had to close on March 28 to move the work from the west side to the east.)

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The federal government provided $779 million – about 10% more than its original commitment of $700 million – for repairs to the building, including replacing mechanical systems and its marble exterior and upgrading its interior spaces and its entries. The museum has raised nearly $250 million of a new $285 million target for private donations. This money supports the redesign of galleries and education and other programs.

With the reopening of the west side, the renovation will continue on the rest of the museum. The central core and galleries, the Imax theater and a new entrance to the National Mall are scheduled to open in 2024. The east side of the building is expected to reopen next year.

Although only part of the museum is open in October, it will provide plenty of jaw-dropping moments, Browne said. ‘Destination Moon’ will feature artifacts from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, including Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit – which has been preserved and reinstalled – and the Apollo 11 command module, Columbia, in state-of-the-art condition , 360 degree showcase. Visitors will be able to walk under and around an 18,000-pound rocket engine and see pieces of an Apollo engine later recovered from the ocean floor.

“Remembering that most of our visitors weren’t alive for Apollo, how do we convey that ‘moonshot’ feeling and what was involved in making the President’s challenge come true [John F.] Kennedy moved on,” Browne said.

The new Wright Flyer exhibit explores the brothers’ lives, their inventions and the influence they had on the world, and ‘Early Flight’ details spectacular innovations in aviation in the decade between the Wrights’ first flights in 1903 and the start of the World War. I in 1914. Other galleries focus on general aviation, planets, and technology derived from space exploration.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to reinvigorate what was a sepia-toned gallery into a truly colorful experience,” said Jeremy Kinney, associate director of research and curatorial affairs, during a recent tour of the new gallery. “Early Flight”. “It’s really invigorating this dynamic story.”

Free, timed passes will be available on the museum’s website beginning September 14, and same-day passes will be handed out daily. The passes should be used for several months, Browne said.

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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