Think you’ve checked the National Air and Space Museum off of your must-see list? Think again. We have just opened brand-new exhibitions at our location on the National Mall in Washington, DC, that are must-sees for anyone who thinks aviation and space are cool – no matter how many times you’ve visited before. (Free timed entry-passes are required to visit. Reserve yours now.)
There’s a lot to see and do — including eight new exhibitions, hundreds of new artifacts, 50 digital interactives, and more. Not sure where to start? We’ve pulled together 10 can’t-miss highlights from our new galleries:
1. Armstrong Suit and Columbia Together
The Destination Moon exhibition contains so many icons of space history, including Apollo 11 command module Columbia and Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit displayed just steps from one another. Both the spacesuit and the spacecraft have undergone extensive conservation in recent years in preparation for their inclusion in a place of honor in this exhibition. Really, the entirety of Destination Moon is a highlight, so don’t miss our new take on the story of lunar exploration, including the robotic and crewed space programs that led up to humanity’s first steps on the lunar surface during the Apollo program.
2. Jackie Cochran's T-38
One of the artifacts on display for the first time is a Northrop T-38A Talon flown by aviator Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran. Cochran, who became the first woman to break the sound barrier in a different jet, flew this T-38 to eight world records for speed, altitude, and distance flying in 1961. Cochran was the definition of a record setter – in fact, at the time of her death in 1980, she held more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot, male or female, in aviation history. The T-38 is on display in the West End Atrium. Additionally, one of Cochran’s pilot uniforms is displayed nearby in Nation of Speed.
3. “Walking On Other Worlds”
Experience what it’s like in distant parts of our solar system in the “Walking on Other Worlds” interactive experience in the Kenneth C. Griffin Exploring the Planets Gallery. This immersive media exhibit presents visitors with a seven-minute “tour” of seven different worlds: Venus, Earth's Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn's moon Titan, asteroid Ryugu, and comet 67P. Using a nearly 360-degree screen, it combines real data and images from spacecraft with CGI to produce an audiovisual experience that introduces visitors to the diversity of worlds in the solar system and makes you feel like you’re really there (no spacesuit required).
4. Race Cars and Motorcycles
Bet you didn’t expect to encounter a race car at the National Air and Space Museum. The new Nation of Speed gallery is unlike any exhibition you’ve seen at Air and Space. This ten-year exhibition recounts humankind’s desire to become the fastest on land, sea, air, and space in the pursuit of commerce, power, and prestige. In addition to space- and aircraft known for going fast, the gallery also features Mario Andretti’s Indy 500-winning race car, Richard Petty’s 200th-win NASCAR racer, Evel Knievel’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and a BMW S 1000 RR motorcycle driven by Erin Sills to set a land speed record in 2016. The Andretti, Petty, and Knievel vehicles are on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
5. Diverse Stories
One of the priorities of our reimagining of the Museum in DC was to ensure that we were telling the full story of aviation and space – including moments or people that may have been overlooked in the past. We want each person who walks through our doors to see themselves reflected in the exhibitions, artifacts, and stories on display. This has involved diving into our archives and other first-person accounts of aerospace history, finding new stories, and adding new artifacts to the collection for display.
As you enter the Museum, stop and take a look at Neal Loving’s red Loving WR-3 air racer and discover the story of the first African American — and the first double amputee — to earn a Professional Race Pilots Association license to race airplanes.
In Early Flight, don’t miss a parachute used by Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick (so named because she was just five feet tall and 85 pounds), the first woman to parachute from an airplane. She started jumping from tethered balloons at the age of 15 and made her first jump from an airplane in 1913.
In America by Air, check out a trio of airline uniforms worn by women pilots: a Frontier Airlines First Officer uniform worn by Emily Howell Warner, the first American woman to fly routinely for a scheduled U.S. commercial airline; a United Airlines maternity pilot’s uniform worn by Cynthia Berkeley; and an American Airlines First Officer uniform worn by Bonnie Tiburzi, the first American woman to fly for a major airline.
In Thomas W. Haas We All Fly, we introduce visitors to Dale White and Chauncey Spencer, who in 1939 made a “Goodwill Flight” from Chicago to Washington, DC, to make the case for African American participation in both civilian and military flight training. Included on display in the gallery are White’s silk scarf and flying helmet. Also on view is a reproduction of a page from White’s logbook, the original held in our Archives, which details a time he was denied hangar space in West Virginia, illustrating prejudice experienced by Black aviators. As a result, White dangerously had to continue on to Pittsburgh after dark.
6. An Exhibition About General Aviation
For the first few years the National Air and Space Museum was open, there was an exhibition focused on general aviation (pro tip: general aviation is non-military, non-commercial flight, like sport aviation, business travel, humanitarian aid, agriculture, environmental conservation, and bush flying). We are excited that a general aviation exhibition returns to the Museum in DC in the form of the Thomas W. Haas We All Fly gallery. The gallery features many artifacts that are new to the Museum or haven’t been on display at the Museum in DC in many years, like Sean Tucker’s Challenger III aerobatic plane, the Fulton Airphibian, and Jerrie Mock’s Cessna 180 Spirit of Columbus. It also features a Bell 47B helicopter—the first helicopter on display at the Museum in DC in three decades.
7. Science Fiction Artifacts
The National Air and Space Museum has long had an interest in science fiction, the creative visions that help people to visualize new inventions and imagine other worlds. New and returning artifacts at the Museum celebrate the power of inspiration that science fiction provides and explore the connection between science fiction and science reality.
New to display is a full-sized T-70 X-wing Starfighter “flown” by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019). The screen-used vehicle is on long-term loan from Lucasfilm and is displayed hanging outside the planetarium.
Star Trek is also represented in the new exhibitions. The series explored an abundance of ways humankind might interact with aliens and different worlds as well as demonstrated how science fiction can reflect our present times and highlight societies’ prejudices and acceptances in creative and compelling ways. The 11-foot studio model of starship Enterprise, used in filming of Star Trek: The Original Series, returns to the display near the Museum entrance and ear tips created for Leonard Nimoy to portray the half-human half-Vulcan Mr. Spock are on display in the Kenneth C. Griffin Exploring the Planets Gallery.
8. ISS Cupola
In the One World Connected gallery, put yourself in the shoes of astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) with the ISS Cupola interactive. Every 90 minutes, astronauts on board the ISS can see the Sun rise from the station’s Cupola, a European Space Agency-built observatory module. From the domed observatory’s seven windows, astronauts look at Earth from 250 miles above its surface. They see wonders of the natural world and signs of human activity. In this interactive, a looped sequence of breath-taking imagery filmed from the International Space Station offers a broad overview of Earth as experienced first-hand only by those lucky enough to fly in space.
9. Wright Flyer and Other Wright Transport
It wouldn’t be the National and Air Space Museum without the original airplane: Orville and Wilbur Wright’s 1903 Wright Flyer, which inaugurated the aerial age with the world's first successful flights of a powered heavier-than-air flying machine in December 1903. It will be on display as the centerpiece of The Wright Brothers & the Invention of the Aerial Age.
The exhibition looks at the Wright brothers’ journey from talented, yet modest, Midwestern bicycle shop owners to creators of world-changing technology. Also on display in the gallery is an original Wright bicycle, one of only five still in existence.
10. A New Website
Can’t visit yet? There’s plenty still to explore on our brand-new website. Explore stories from each of the new exhibitions on their exhibit pages, or delve into a topic you’re fascinated about on our topics pages. Perusing the website this way, you’ll discover tons of stories to read and our new deep dive pages to dive into major topics in aviation and space history, from the Wright brothers and Bessie Coleman to the Moon landing and science fiction. For educators, we have a new database of learning resources, where you can sort resources by topic area, grade level, resource type, and more. Last but not least, there’s information for you to plan your trip to either of our two locations when you are able to visit.