View of a partial eclipse through eclipse viewing glasses

Education and Public Engagement

Educational Activities

Student participates in hands-on activity

A student participates in a hands-on activity during an episode of our webcast series STEM in 30. 

Through our educational activities and public programs, the National Air and Space Museum inspires all individuals to reach their full potential by sharing stories and experiences about aviation, spaceflight, and the universe.

The Museum’s approach to education and public engagement reaches people in a variety of ways, through hands-on educational experiences, public engagement at evening programs, and connecting our content with people beyond the walls of the museum.

In FY 2017, the Museum was focused on using the fascinating topics encompassed by our collection to engage with visitors of all ages in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) topics. The Museum’s ability to educate and inspire people everywhere shone bright during the August eclipse that crossed the continental United States (see Spotlight below). 

Nearly a million personal education experiences were shared with Museum visitors during FY 2017, including activities such as astronomical observing, story time reading for younger visitors, art projects, docent-led tours, science demonstrations, planetarium shows, interactive video conferences, and teacher professional development.

The year’s programming had something for everyone: 

  • For the space enthusiast: Remembering John Glenn: The Man and the Legend lecture
  • For the film buff: The Hollywood Goes to War: World War I on the Big Screen film series
  • For the sci-fi fan: The Force at 40 celebration of Star Wars 
  • For the family: Air & Scare Halloween event
  • For the curious mind: Apollo on the Move behind-the-scenes event

The Museum also engages in digital outreach efforts to educate and inspire audiences everywhere. This year we reached further beyond our walls than ever before:

  • The Museum’s website had more than 5.5 million visitors – a 12 percent increase from 2016.
  • The Museum’s new story content was successful, with page views of stories on the Museum website increasing 48 percent from the previous year.
  • In February 2017, we began livestreaming our Ask an Expert talks on Facebook, reaching an average of 1,900 viewers each week. This is a 5,800 percent increase from attendance at the onsite version of the program.
  • The STEM in 30 program for middle school students reached a milestone with one million students engaged in their programs since it started three years ago.
  • We launched several new online series, including ISS Science, which followed astronaut Randy Bresnik’s trip to the International Space Station; Lightning Lessons,  short videos that provided new ways to experience the solar eclipse; and a series that highlighted the Museum’s amazing photography and its ongoing efforts to document our collections.

Complete list of educational activities and programming in 2017.


Genevieve de Messieres, Shauna Edson, and Rebecca Ljungren
& the Great American Eclipse

  • Eclipse on Solar Telescope

    An Observatory volunteer shows visitors a view of the partial solar eclipse on a solar telescope at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. 

  • Rebecca Ljungren talks to a reporter

    Astronomy educator Rebecca Ljungren talks to a reporter about the solar eclipse at the National Air and Space Museum's Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory in Washington, DC. 

  • Visitors use a Sunspotter telescope

    Visitors view the partial solar eclipse through a Sunspotter telescope at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. 

  • Visitors gather to view eclipse

    Crowds gather to view the partial solar eclipse at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. 

One of 2017’s biggest stories across the country, and especially at the National Air and Space Museum, was the August 21 solar eclipse. While the “path of totality” stretched in a swath across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina, the eclipse could be viewed in some capacity from anywhere in the contiguous United States.

Here in Washington, DC, we experienced 81 percent totality at the peak of the eclipse.  Thanks to the efforts of our team at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory – and foresight that this eclipse would capture the public’s attention – we were able to use this spectacular natural phenomenon as an opportunity to inform, educate, and inspire. Astronomy educators Genevieve de Messieres, Shauna Edson, and Rebecca Ljungren took the lead on this effort, ordering eclipse glasses for free distribution; creating online educational materials for classrooms, families, and eclipse viewers across the country; and planning day-of programming to provide an inspirational eclipse-viewing experience for those at our locations in Washington, DC, and Chantilly, Virginia. Highlights of our eclipse activities included:

  • An eclipse webpage
  • 160,000 eclipse glasses handed out
  • Your Eclipse family days in July at the Museum in DC and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, to teach and prepare visitors for the upcoming eclipse
  • Day-of eclipse viewing and activities attended by over 68,000 people at the Museum in DC’s Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory; the Udvar-Hazy Center; and various locations around the city, including the National Mall, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, the National Archives, and the Enid Haupt Garden
  • Eclipse-centered episode of our STEM in 30 webcast series, broadcast live from the path of totality in Liberty, Missouri

For the team at the Public Observatory, the eclipse was a chance to share their passion of astronomy with the world, and was a highlight of 2017. “At the peak of the eclipse, a spontaneous cheer rose from the crowd,” de Messieres recalled. “I paused to stare at the crisp crescent of the Sun and let the experience sink in for myself. The mood of the event was exactly what I hoped for: a gigantic, festive observing party where everyone had the tools they needed to participate. This eclipse was special, and we loved helping many people across the nation be a part of it.”

Programming at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory is made possible by a gift from the Thomas W. Haas Foundation.