Celebrating 35 Years
The opening of the National Air and Space Museum on July 1, 1976 was one of the highlights of America's Bicentennial Celebration. At the ribbon cutting, President Gerald Ford called the Museum "a perfect birthday present from the American people to themselves."
Now, 35 years later, the Museum is one of the most popular in the world. This distinction has grown since the 2003 opening of a companion facility, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which quickly became the most visited museum in Virginia. Together, the two locations have created lasting memories for nearly 310 million visitors.
We hope you will enjoy the photos, history, and memories on this 35th Anniversary website and will contribute your favorite Museum memory.
- The Smithsonian's aeronautical collection began 100 years before the National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall was in existence, when in 1876 a group of kites was acquired from the Chinese Imperial Commission.
- Built in 1918, the Aircraft Building housed most of the Museum's aviation collection for decades. It was nicknamed the "tin shed" and stood on the south side of the Smithsonian's castle.
- In 1946, Congress authorized the creation of a new National Air Museum. In 1966, the legislation was amended to include the field of spaceflight and the name National Air and Space Museum came into being.
- In the 1960s, the area outside of the Smithsonian's Arts & Industries building, next to the castle, was known as "Rocket Row." Several rockets were displayed there until the National Air and Space Museum's building a few blocks away was opened.
- The official ribbon-cutting that opened the doors of the Museum on July 1, 1976 began with a signal sent from the Viking 1 spacecraft in orbit around Mars. Relayed to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, the signal arrived at the Museum via ground lines. It activated a mechanical "arm," causing the ribbon to split in two.
- The director of the National Air and Space Museum on opening day was Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins, who circled the Moon in the space capsule, Columbia, as his fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the lunar surface in July 1969. Coincidentally, Columbia is on display in the Museum.
- The one millionth visitor to the new Museum walked through the doors on July 25, 1976, less than a month after opening day. Within six months, the Museum had welcomed five million visitors.
- Since opening in 1976, the National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall has been one of the most visited museum facilities in the world, attracting in some years more than nine million people.
- Although the National Air and Space Museum is a massive structure — 161,000 square feet of exhibit floor space — it is only large enough to display about 10 percent of the Museum's huge collection of artifacts. A companion facility, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, opened in 2003 and displays another 80 percent of the collection. The remainder is on loan or in storage.
- The National Air and Space Museum maintains the world's largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft — nearly 60,000 artifacts that range in size from Saturn V rockets and jets to military insignia and microchips.
It is a magnificent sight to walk into the entry halls of the National Air and Space Museum. I have been privileged to participate in the design and flight test of almost every one of the vehicles that are on display in this room. It is truly an awesome experience. I was three years old when I saw Lindbergh land the Spirit of St. Louis in Richmond, Va. At the time it would have been impossible to conceive that I would someday be involved in the aerospace programs represented by these strange but beautiful machines. What an unbelievable place this museum is — it is truly an inspiration to those who would follow their dreams to the future.
~ Christopher Kraft
first head of the NASA Houston Center
Congratulations to everyone at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum for 35 extraordinary years of providing your visitors an aviation wonderland that inspires and informs. I remember vividly my very first visit. I was captivated by every aspect of the exhibits, starting with the classic airplane smell I recognized as soon as I entered the American Airlines DC-7 fuselage. The Museum is a national treasure and I'm very happy to know that future generations will continue to have the opportunity to see such an amazing history up close.
~ Capt. "Sully" Sullenberger
US Airways "Miracle on the Hudson" pilot