Director’s Message

Every test, every rehearsal and every one of the actual Apollo missions that are now marking their 50th anniversary was preceded by millions if not billions of hours of preparatory work by a team of 400,000 people from all 50 states. While our team is much smaller, that same spirit of careful, focused preparation to accomplish big things was our central focus in fiscal year 2018.

Our big project, now underway, is the complete transformation of America’s favorite museum. The seven-year effort is off to a great start thanks to all the planning, creativity and collaboration of our team. It will allow us to stay open throughout the work sharing key artifacts with our many visitors.

For me, the first big change was coming on-board as the John and Adrienne Mars Director in May. Returning to lead the Museum where I once interned is an amazing thrill and honor.

This place that tells the stories of people who defied what others thought was possible to achieve the remarkable has inspired generations as we’ve hosted more than 350 million people since the National Mall building opened in 1976. This includes nearly 8 million visitors in calendar year 2018.

All that love has taken its toll on the building and that was what motivated my wonderful predecessor General Jack Dailey to start planning our renovations. He recognized that it was also a unique opportunity to make sure we tell the stories of Ideas That Defy in ways that capture the excitement those innovators, explorers and researchers felt as they made their dreams reality, and present them to 21st century audiences who engage with museums differently. My great thanks to Jack for his leadership of the museum and enduring focus on our mission.

As we prepared to begin our transformation we also maintained an amazing pace of engagement with visitors inside the museum and out. A very few highlights from that plethora of accomplishments includes:

  • Finalizing designs for the West end of the building, which is the first part to undergo transformation.
  • Awarding the prime contracts for the Revitalization (physical plant restoration) and Transformation (gallery reimagining) that includes moving thousands of artifacts from tiny pins to full aircraft out of the building and then back after many have undergone conservation.
  • Ongoing support for the traveling Destination Moon exhibit that is allowing us to share our Apollo collection with people across the country during this anniversary period.
  • Incredible research by our historian/curators and our Center for Earth and Planetary Studies scientists keeping us at the forefront of what’s new in air and space.
  • Continuing to grow our Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center as it approached its 15th anniversary. We added to the collection, moved our Archives and other staff to the building, and prepared to move items to a new collections center to house artifacts from the Mall during transformation, and provide long-term storage capacity when we’re done.
  • Successfully holding dozens of education programs from family days to lectures that attracted tens of thousands of visitors
  • Launching both our Teacher Innovator Institute (TII) and the SHE Can STEM summer camp.

And, that is really just a fraction of what we accomplished in the fiscal year.

My love for this museum existed long before I was able to step into the director’s office, and my first months here have only grown my respect for the team and what they do, and energized my commitment to keep making the National Air and Space Museum better and better. I hope you’ll see that commitment in the work shared in pages of this report and join us on our journey as we spark the imagination of future generations of visitors to Ignite Tomorrow.

Ellen Stofan, PhD
John and Adrienne Mars Director
March 1, 2019