Viewport: The Big Two-Five
- By J.R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, September 2001
As birthdays go, 25 is a milestone that marks the passage from youth to maturity, and for the National Air and Space Museum, hitting the quarter-century mark was a very similar event. On July 1 the Museum celebrated its birthday with just over 67,000 visitors–exceptional Sunday attendance in a building that has welcomed some 219 million visitors since it opened its doors in 1976. From preschoolers cheering the “Battle of the Blimps,” to teenage sleuths identifying “Who am I?” historic characters, to someone like me enthralled by curators’ descriptions of the icons of aviation and space history, they came to blow out the candles and wish the Museum a future as successful as its past.
And they’ll get their wish.
At the opening ceremony during the nation’s 1976 bicentennial celebration, President Gerald Ford called the Museum “a perfect birthday present from the American people to themselves.” Those words have inspired the silver anniversary theme as well: The perfect birthday present will keep on giving with a year-long series of events. Visitors on July 1 were treated to 25 special “presents”—activities, games, performances, and souvenirs. And when the anniversary year ends next summer, the American people will celebrate another gift: the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. The first phase of the Museum’s eagerly anticipated companion facility is expected to be completed in late 2002 to enable exhibit installation in time for opening the following December.
Each month throughout the silver anniversary year, we will showcase something that focuses on the Museum’s collections or a milestone in aviation or space history. From August until June, we will launch new exhibitions, premiere a summer film festival, unveil an innovative projection system in the Albert Einstein Planetarium, publish several books, and debut IMAX films.
A new gallery, “Explore the Universe,” will open on September 21. This permanent exhibition will show how we arrived at our current scientific view of the universe and probe the mysteries that remain. Encompassing an array of artifacts spanning the past 400 years— including astronomer William Herschel’s 20-foot telescope—the exhibition will lay out our astronomical progress within its historic and technological context.
New publications will include the Smithsonian Book of Flight, a children’s book; At the Controls: NASM Book of Cockpits; Great Aviators and Epic Flights; The Nation’s Hangar; and The Spirit of St. Louis.
Other anniversary year highlights will include a lecture by Reeve Lindbergh commemorating the 75th anniversary of her father’s transatlantic flight; “Voyage,” an exhibit on the National Mall, focusing on the solar system; “At the Controls,” a Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition based on the book; and new CD-ROMs on the planets and on aircraft and spacecraft in the Museum’s collection.
For 25 years the National Air and Space Museum has succeeded beyond all expectations, becoming the foremost destination to view the icons of flight and to learn about the people and science that got them off the ground. As we celebrate our first quarter-century, it’s clear that the best is yet to come.