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NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM, WASHINGTON DC

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The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) of the Smithsonian Institution is a museum in Washington, D.C., United States, and is the most popular of the Smithsonian museums. It maintains the largest collection of aircraft and spacecraft in the world. It is also a vital center for research into the history, science, and technology of aviation and spaceflight, as well as planetary science and terrestrial geology and geophysics. Almost all space and aircraft on display are originals or backup crafts to the originals.

The National Air and Space Museum is widely considered one of Washington's most significant works of modern architecture. Because of the museum site's close proximity to the United States Capitol, the Smithsonian Institution wanted a building that would be architecturally impressive but would not stand out too boldly against the Capitol Building. St. Louis-based architect Gyo Obata of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum accepted the challenge and designed the museum as four simple travertine-encased cubes containing the smaller and more theatrical exhibits, connected by three spacious steel-and-glass atriums which house the larger exhibits such as missiles, airplanes and spacecraft. The museum, built by Gilbane Building Company, was finished in 1976. The west glass wall of the building is used for the installation of airplanes, functioning as a giant door.

Originally called the National Air Museum when it was formed on August 12, 1946 by an act of Congress, some pieces in the National Air and Space Museum collection date back to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia after which the Chinese Imperial Commission donated a group of kites to the Smithsonian. The Stringfellow steam engine intended for aircraft was accessioned into the collection in 1889, the first piece actively acquired by the Smithsonian now in the current NASM collection.

After the establishment of the museum, there was no one building that could hold all the items to be displayed. Some pieces were on display in the Arts and Industries Building, some were stored in a shed in the Smithsonian's South Yard that came to be known as the "Air and Space Building", and the larger missiles and rockets were displayed outdoors in "Rocket Row."

The combination of the large numbers of aircraft donated to the Smithsonian after World War II and the need for hangar and factory space for the Korean War drove the Smithsonian to look for its own facility to store and restore aircraft. The current Garber Facility was ceded to the Smithsonian by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 1952 after the curator Paul E. Garber spotted the wooded area from the air. Bulldozers from Fort Belvoir and prefabricated buildings from the United States Navy kept the initial costs low.

The space race in the 1950s and 1960s led to the renaming of the Museum to the "National Air and Space Museum", and finally congressional passage of appropriations for the construction of the new exhibition hall, which opened July 1, 1976 at the height of the United States Bicentennial festivities. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center opened in 2003, funded by a private donation.




















January 2009

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