National Air and Space Museum Celebrates 40th Anniversary With All-Nighter (photos)

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Thousands took advantage of expanded hours at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to help celebrate its 40th Anniversary on Friday, July 1, which coincided with the reopening of the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. The two-year renovation of the hall was made possible by a $30-million gift from Boeing. Several of the museum’s most iconic artifacts will remain on view, and new ones have been added.

Some of the familiar exhibits have been moved to create an open area in the center of the vast room to allow space for special events. The Gemini IV and John Glenn’s Mercury “Friendship 7” space capsules, for example, have been transplanted to a new glass enclosure along the front west wall. Charles Lindbergh’s famous “Spirit of St. Louis,” which has undergone restoration work, is still in its familiar overhead location. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager’s bright orange Bell X-1, which became the first aircraft to travel faster than the speed of sound, hangs prominently inside above the main entrance.

An original National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) full-scale wind tunnel fan is one of the new items to hang in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. The original USS Enterprise model from the Star Trek television series has been fully restored and put on view. And nearby is a temporary exhibit housing artifacts from the career of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. The centerpiece will be the Apollo Lunar Module, previously displayed in another gallery. It is just like the one that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon’s surface in 1969.

The installation also introduced GO FLIGHT, a digital experience designed to allow visitors to make connections with and between artifacts and to share the national collection beyond the walls of the museum.

Before the doors opened at 9 p.m., there was a brief ceremony featuring remarks from the museum’s current director, Gen. J.R. “Jack” Dailey, Smithsonian Undersecretary Richard Kurin and Greta Lundeberg from Boeing. U.S. Air Force Col. Nicole Malachowski, who was the first female pilot selected to fly as part of the USAF Air Demonstration Squadron (better known as the Thunderbirds) noted that as a child she drew her inspiration from the items in the museum. Astronaut Jeff Williams appeared in a video filmed aboard the International Space Station and projected onto the front wall. Ten individuals who were working at the museum at its creation in 1976 joined the VIPs on the podium. All speakers hoped that the museum will continue to inspire the next generations of aerospace pioneers.

The museum would remain open all night with special activities for visitors including a performance by the U.S. Air Force’s Airmen of Note jazz ensemble, films, autograph sessions and instructional talks.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is located along the National Mall at Independence Ave and 6th Street SW. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., extended to 7 p.m. on select days. Admission to all Smithsonian Museums is free. (Other items are on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport in the Chantilly area of Fairfax County. While admission to the annex is free, note there will be a $15 fee to park your car.)

View our photos of the Air and Space Museum’s 40th Anniversary event by clicking on the photo icons below. (All photos by Jeff Malet.)

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