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Free things to do: Family-Friendly

Blast off at this popular free museum on the National Mall chronicling the history of aviation and space travel.

A museum that goes above and beyond

Glimpse the 1903 Wright Flyer, run your hands over moon rock and experience the larger-than-life world of aviation and space travel at the National Air and Space Museum. Since opening on the National Mall in 1976, this hub of all things flight has educated and inspired future generations of pilots and astronauts from around the world. The museum (along with its second location, the Udvar-Hazy Center, in Chantilly, Va.) contains the largest and most significant collection of aviation and space artifacts in the world. All components of human flight are on display, including related art and archival materials.

Event Planning Guide 2021

What’s inside the National Air and Space Museum?

The Air and Space Museum takes visitors to the sky, showcasing the amazing technological achievements that have progressed aviation and space exploration throughout the last century. Our fascination with flight is still alive and well, as the museum (and the accompanying Udvar-Hazy Center) is one of the most visited in the world year-after-year. As you may imagine, the historical objects on display are fundamental to the story of flight. The 1903 Wright Flyer owns the distinction of flying the world’s first successful flight, and you can see the groundbreaking flying machine in person. There’s also Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the first aircraft to complete a nonstop flight from New York to Paris. The Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, the only portion of the Apollo 11 spacecraft to return to Earth, is prominently displayed in the ongoing Space Race exhibition. Visitors can also see the spacesuit astronaut Neil Armstrong wore during his mission to the moon and touch a sample of a lunar rock brought back from the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Family at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall - Free kid-friendly museum in Washington, DC

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Neil Armstrong

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New experiences added daily

The Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall features the Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis (the first plane to break the sound barrier), aviation and spaceflight stories and an exclusive mobile experience that will let visitors personalize their exploration like never before.

The Air and Space Museum also features an IMAX Theater, a planetarium and a public observatory with a safe solar telescope so you can be a daytime stargazer. Daily tours are offered and educational events are available for children and adults. The museum science demonstrations and story times are for younger children.

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A stellar DC Cool experience.

Look through the lens of a high-powered telescope and watch as celestial bodies come into focus. Held on select evenings throughout the year, nighttime stargazing at the National Air and Space Museum’s Public Observatory brings out volunteer experts (many of whom share their personal telescopes), families and couples. You might look through three telescopes, each focused on a different point in the sky. As one of the most-visited museums in the world, the Air and Space Museum has consistently welcomed more than six million visitors annually. 

With that in mind, the Smithsonian will begin a major construction project starting in fall 2018 to enhance the visitor experience and protect the museum’s collection. All 23 galleries and spaces will be transformed and more than 1,400 new artifacts will be displayed upon completion of the project, which is expected to last seven years. The museum will remain open for the duration of the project, although certain parts of the collection will be transferred to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.

Things to do at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

The aircraft and spacecraft hanging overhead would be impressive enough, but the Udvar-Hazy Center also offers thousands of additional artifacts to view and many interactive, family friendly exhibits and activities. Udvar-Hazy is home to the Airbus IMAX Theater that shows aviation and space travel-related films (and occasionally even feature film releases). Tickets can be purchased at the center or online in advance. Or, get a realistic view of what it’s like to fly in a fighter jet or walk in space on Udvar-Hazy’s ride and flight simulators. Visitors can also head up to the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, where you’ll get a bird’s eye, 360-degree view of the planes landing and taking off at Washington Dulles International Airport. STEAM labs, discovery stations and science demonstrations offer visitors, particularly young aviation enthusiasts, the chance to delve even deeper into air and space travel. Little astronauts and their families can even sign up for Race to the Moon, a free interactive game that highlights the space race, on select Fridays and Saturdays. The Udvar-Hazy Center also offers free daily tours of the museum led by aviation experts. And even if you opt out of the tour, many of the museum’s docents are retired military and civilian pilots and aviation specialists. Take advantage of their knowledge as you tour the museum.

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