Viewport: Build It and They Will Browse
- By J.R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, November 2002
In early 1994, scientists at the National Air and Space Museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies (CEPS) opened a Web site to provide public access to collections and research information. By 1995, more information from the rest of the Museum had been added, and the National Air and Space Museum public Web site was born.
The quantity and the quality of information available on the Web site has grown rapidly, with visits growing even faster: In February 1997, the site logged roughly 800,000 hits, but by last May, the number had reached almost 12 million.
New technologies are being integrated into the Web site—as well as in Museum exhibitions—to create a more rewarding educational experience. In addition to providing basic information for Museum visitors, the Web site offers educators, students, researchers, and enthusiasts interactive learning aids such as “Black Wings: African American Pioneer Aviators” (www.nasm.si.edu/blackwings) and the “Exploring the Planets Cyber Center” (cybercenter.si.edu). Restoration work in the Garber facility in Suitland, Maryland, can be viewed via the Web cam there (www.nasm.si.edu/garber). Online visitors can also sign up for Museum memberships with the National Air and Space Society (www.nasm.si.edu/membership) or add names to the National Aviation and Space Wall of Honor (www.nasm.si.edu/wallofhonor).
The Web site also offers information and experiences that even a visit to the Museum can’t provide: a virtual tour of the 1997–1999 exhibition “Star Wars: The Magic of Myth” (www.nasm.si.edu/StarWars), imagery and information for aircraft and spacecraft that are not on display, unique finding aids and resources from the Museum Library and Archives, and the results of current research projects, such as the CEPS staff’s recent discovery of what were once lakes and floods on Mars. Finally, online visitors can learn about the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, a new exhibition facility opening in 2003, and view photos of its construction (www.nasm.si.edu/udvarhazycenter).
Web-based technologies within exhibitions offer an exciting means to enhance visitors’ experiences. A display in “Exploring the Planets” shows new images from the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, and the next generation of interactive kiosks in “Explore the Universe” will feature continually updated astronomical discoveries.
Some big changes coming to the site include a new design along with new historical resources, educational activities, and access to the Museum’s collections information database. And as the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is completed, the Web site will provide information about the facility and powerful new tools to help visitors plan a trip there.
The National Air and Space Museum showcases the history of aviation and space exploration, focusing on the innovation and technology that have made the dream of flight possible. With the help of Internet technology, the Museum reaches beyond the National Mall to inspire and educate an ever-growing online audience in the United States and around the world. So stop by www.nasm.si.edu to see what’s new and watch us grow.
—J.R. Dailey is the director of the National Air and Space Museum.