In 2016 we commemorated 40 great years of unparalleled success, and demonstrated yet again why we are one of the world’s favorite museums.
To celebrate, we reopened our central exhibition, the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall after an extensive redesign. The gallery is one of the world’s great public spaces, and since 1976 has introduced hundreds of millions of people to the challenges and achievements of aerospace history. Now it tells those stories better than ever. We relaunched Milestones on July 1, in conjunction with a celebration of our 40th anniversary that featured an outdoor ceremony including speakers from across aerospace history and industry, a photo greeting from Mars, and a special video greeting from the International Space Station. Although rain fell throughout the evening, it didn’t dampen visitors’ enthusiasm for the overnight birthday party that followed the ceremony, which featured a film festival, special tours, and activities throughout the night. The extended hours were a huge success — over 54,000 people attended, more than a sold-out night at Yankee Stadium.
As you’ll see in the pages ahead, July 1 wasn’t the only highlight of 2016. We acquired new artifacts, including the first US Coast Guard aircraft on permanent display in the Smithsonian and the custom pressure suit Alan Eustace used to the break high-altitude freefall record. We made new discoveries on one of our most popular artifacts, when the 3D scanning of the Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, uncovered original astronaut “graffiti.” Our scientists helped unlock the mysteries of the planet Mercury, and Senior Curator Tom Crouch won the 2016 AIAA Distinguished Service Award, embodying the high caliber of our researchers and historians. In September, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, which has inspired generations of real life scientists, engineers, and innovators. And in December, we rang in the holiday season by delighting visitors with a rousing US Air Force Band “flash mob” performance.
Although our two locations are among the most visited museum destinations in the world, our mission doesn’t end at our door. As we reimagine the institution for the twenty-first century, we intend to meet our visitors inside and outside our walls. Our new digital platform, GO FLIGHT, aims to do just that. It includes an all-new website, a mobile app, and a 200-square-foot interactive wall in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. Visitors onsite and online can explore our collection and find stories that matter to them. GO FLIGHT puts aerospace history in the hands of everyone, everywhere.
We are moving ahead with plans to revitalize our building on the National Mall and transform our exhibitions in ways that will be nothing short of extraordinary. And just as when we transformed the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, we will remain open throughout the multi-year process of building a new National Air and Space Museum for generations to come. We’ve had a great 40 years, and it’s only the beginning.
J. R. “Jack” Dailey
John and Adrienne Mars Director