Image of the building with a projection on the exterior.




Behind the scenes at the National Air and Space Museum, curators, fellows, and scientists conduct research that increases our understanding of aviation and space exploration's role in history; science and technology's central place in modern life; and the latest findings about our solar system. Activities include geologic field studies; research of Earth-like planets and direct involvement in planetary missions; contributing to professional organizations and societies; conducting historical research; hosting symposiums; and writing scholarly and popular books, papers, and articles.

Aeronautics and Space History
Research in the Aeronautics Department is related to all aspects of flight in the atmosphere. In the Department of Space History, research is conducted on the history and technology of spaceflight, space science, and exploration. This research provides an invaluable foundation in developing exhibits for the public, in selecting artifacts for the Museum's collection, in writing publications, and in educating the public through lectures and other means.

Complete list of Aeronautics and Space History scholarly activities.

Center for Earth and Planetary Studies
The Center for Earth and Planetary Studies (CEPS) is the scientific research unit within the National Air and Space Museum. Its scientists conduct an active research program in planetary and terrestrial geology and geophysics.

In 2016, CEPS scientists authored or co-authored 33 papers in science journals. Seven of these appeared in the high-impact journals Science, Geology, and Geophysical Research Letters.

Complete list of CEPS writings.

Staff Awards
Staff received numerous awards from respected outside organizations and associations in 2016. Two were from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA):

Senior Aeronautics Curator Tom Crouch received the 2016 Distinguished Service Award (see Spotlight) and the Museum’s John and Adrienne Mars Director, Gen. J.R. “Jack” Dailey, received the 2016 AIAA Foundation Award for Excellence. It is the highest award presented by the AIAA Foundation Board of Trustees.

Complete list of staff awards. 

Books Written by Museum Staff

Milestones of Flight: The Epic of Aviation with the National Air and Space Museum by Aeronautics Curators Bob van der Linden and Alex Spencer, along with Museum Specialist Tom Paone

Milestones of Flight: From Hot-Air Balloons to SpaceShipOne by Chief of Museum Learning Tim Grove. For children ages 10-14.

E-Book: President’s Daily Briefs Spotlighted Soviet Missile and Space Programs in the 1960s and 1970s, by James David. Learn more


Tom Crouch

Aeronautics Senior Curator Tom Crouch Receives AIAA Distinguished Service Award

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) — the largest aerospace professional society in the world — awarded Senior Aeronautics Curator Tom Crouch its 2016 Distinguished Service Award. He was cited for his “inspirational leadership and ceaseless efforts in promoting the public understanding of the history of AIAA and the compelling aerospace achievements of its members.”

Tom is a pillar of the aviation history community, and in particular AIAA. As AIAA president, Jim Albaugh, said, “From his authorship of the definitive history of AIAA, to his work preserving aerospace historic sites and artifacts, to his efforts to ensure that aerospace history will always have its own place within AIAA’s structure, Tom Crouch’s work has done much to preserve the rich historical legacy of the aerospace community as a whole and of AIAA in particular.”

Part of Tom’s AIAA legacy includes authorship of Rocketeers and Gentlemen Engineers: A History of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics…and What Came Before. He presents several lectures a year as an AIAA Distinguished Lecturer, and currently is helping lead the selection committees for three AIAA awards.

Tom joined the Smithsonian in 1974 and has contributed his expertise to the National Museum of American History as well as the National Air and Space Museum. He is currently a senior curator in the Aeronautics Department. He has helped create numerous exhibitions, both for the Smithsonian and other entities.  

He is a multiple-award-winning author and editor of books and articles on topics ranging from the Wright brothers to ballooning to the history of aviation from kites to the space age. His book, The Bishop’s Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright, is considered by most historians to be the definitive work on the Wright brothers.

Tom holds a BA (1962) from Ohio University, an MA (1968) from Miami University, and a PhD (1976) from the Ohio State University, all in history.  In addition, he holds an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, conferred in June 2001 by Wright State University.