Wednesday, June 25, 2008

 

Air and Space Museum

Last time I was in DC, I had a chance to go to the Air and Space Museum in the National Mall. It was a good museum, but I finally got a chance to see the other part of the museum -- located at Dulles International Airport in Virgina, and it was spectacular!

The museum is located in a huge former Boeing aircraft hangar -- by far the biggest hangar I've ever seen. The hangar also has a visitors control tower so you can see the airport and learn about airport flight controllers. This is the museum from the outside (the hangar is behind the tower which is hard to see here but its enourmous):


The real treasure of this museum is what's on the inside of the hangar. The actual Enola Gay which dropped the Atomic bombs on Japan is in there, an SR-71, the Virgin Atlantic plane which set the record travelling around the planet non-stop. and so is an Air France Concorde and several one-of-a-kind German WWII aircraft (as well as dozens of rocket designs, engines, experimental aircraft and home-made aircraft). Oh and the best thing of all was in the space section:


That would be the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the first shuttle ever built. And it is massive! The tiles on this plane are different because this one was used for aerodynamic tests and gliding rather than space travel and re-entry, but still impressive!


In addition to the shuttle there were tons of other space travel artifacts, such as the actual re-entry capsules used in the Gemini program, as well as a space suit worn by one of the astronauts who landed on the moon (there was still moon dust on the suit). The (actual) rockets and (replica) satellites were also great. Oh, and did I mention this place is massive?

The museum gives free tours, and the guides are pretty much all from the industry (retired). I know this because I hopped from one tour group to the other around the museum because they all had their own great stories to tell.
There was also an IMAX and simulator rides but I didn't have time to check them out. I did get to go up to the flight controller observation deck though.


I could have spent days here, but I had to keep driving West so 4 hours was all I could dedicate to this.



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