National Air and Space Museum
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Independence Ave. and 6th St. SW
HOURS: Labor Day-Mar. 24 daily 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m.;
Mar. 25-Labor Day daily 10 a.m.-7:30 p.m.;
closed Christmas Day
Always crowded, never dull, the National Air and Space Museum is a testament to awesome feats of engineering, illustrating the history of flight from the Wright Brothers’ 1903 Flyer through SpaceShip One, the first private craft to make repeat trips to space.
The museum boasts 23 galleries of satellites, rockets, missiles, full-sized passenger aircraft, flight paraphernalia, and space ships—more than can be seen in an afternoon.
There’s a must-touch moon rock, brought to earth on Apollo 17 in 1972, as well as a number of for-fee activities, including Albert Einstein Planetarium shows and movies at the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater, which still airs one of the earliest IMAX films, To Fly, as well as other titles.
This museum is the most visited in Washington, with nearly 9 million coming through its doors each year. To avoid the crush, visit in January or February, or summer evenings.
The Smithsonian also operates a companion museum, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, a cavernous facility that contains large aircraft, including a Concorde, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the Enola Gay B-29 bomber, and an SR-71 Blackbird.
Chantilly lies 30 miles from the National Air and Space Museum and is accessible by car or via a privately run shuttle from Dulles International Airport. Entry is free, but be aware of the $15 parking fee (free after 4 p.m.).
© Patricia Nevins Kime from Moon Washington DC, 1st Edition