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Julie Malinowski of Ashburn, Va., accompanied by her three-year-old daughter Claire, and her parents, Nicolai and Valentina Vaseliv, visiting from Rochester, N.Y., was greeted by museum staff and reporters in the center's entrance way and presented with a special gift package and behind-the-scenes tour of the facility. Malinowski has brought a number of relatives to the center in recent months and plans to return many more times. She said her visit Wednesday was already going to be memorable because her father is a former airplane mechanic.
Gifts were provided by Smithsonian Business Ventures, the Fairfax County Convention & Visitors Corporation, the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce and the Loudoun Convention & Visitors Association.
The Udvar-Hazy Center, the companion facility to the museum's flagship building on the National Mall in Washington, was an immediate hit with the public, attracting nearly 220,000 visitors in its first two weeks of operation. It houses many rare aircraft and large space artifacts that had been in storage for years such as a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the world's fastest jet, and the space shuttle Enterprise.
Noting the latest attendance milestone, museum director Gen. J.R. "Jack" Dailey thanked visitors for their strong support of the Udvar-Hazy Center and encouraged them to return over the next few years as more artifacts are added and a second phase of the facility--including a restoration shop and archive--is built.
"When we call this a 'work-in-progress,' people can't believe there's even more to come. Part of the visitor experience now is sharing in this wonderful sense of momentum," Dailey said.
The public's tremendous interest in the new center led to some delays for visitors arriving during the first days of operation. Long waits have since been alleviated in part because of an expanded information system that includes additional signs on area roadways and a new low-watt AM radio station that begins transmitting later this month.
The center reached its half million attendance milestone on the last day of February.
Visitors to the Udvar-Hazy Center are encouraged to car pool or use the shuttle bus service from the museum's Mall building if possible. Although admission to the center is free, there is a $12 fee for parking. A roundtrip ticket for the shuttle bus is $7, with discounts available for groups.
Public enthusiasm for the National Air and Space Museum was first confirmed at the museum's Mall building, which welcomed its millionth visitor 25 days after opening on July 1, 1976. It marked two million visitors on its 50th day of operation and its 200 millionth visitor on Jan. 24, 1998.
The Mall building has been the most visited museum facility in the world, averaging more than 9 million people each year. It was rated the number one museum attraction by the 2004 Zagat Survey U.S. Family Travel Guide.
The Mall building can only display about 10 percent of the museum's aircraft and large space artifact collection. The Udvar-Hazy Center will ultimately house 80 percent of that collection, with another 10 percent on loan.
The Udvar-Hazy Center's aviation hangar--10 stories high and the length of three football fields--opened with 82 aircraft installed. Almost two dozen more will be added this year, with 200 eventually displayed.
The center's James S. McDonnell Space Hangar will be fully accessible to the public this fall after refurbishment work on the Enterprise is completed and more than 100 other large space artifacts are installed.
Comfortable rubber-soled shoes are recommended for walking in the Udvar-Hazy Center.
The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly off Route 28 near Washington Dulles International Airport. The National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. Both facilities are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25) and admission is free.