This is the country's second most visited museum, attracting 9 million people annually to the world's largest collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft. The 22 galleries tell the story of aviation from the earliest human attempts at flight to supersonic jets and spacecraft.
In 2014, the museum embarked upon a major overhaul of its spectacular grand hall, but will remain open during the process. When it debuts in 2016, in celebration of the museum's 40th anniversary, the new gallery—named the Boeing Milestones of Flight—will trace the evolution of air and space travel with state-of-the-art digital displays, a new mobile experience, and expanded space to showcase the key air- and space-craft. Many of the museum's superstar artifacts will return, including the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis, Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis, and Mercury Friendship 7, along with artifacts new to the museum, among them a model of the USS Enterprise
from the "Star Trek" television series. Also being renovated is the kid-friendly How Things Fly gallery.
On the second floor, you can see the 1903 Wright Flyer that Wilbur and Orville Wright piloted over the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and the Lockheed Vega that Amelia Earhart piloted in 1932 in the first solo transatlantic flight by a woman.
Free docent-led tours leave daily at 10:30 and 1 from the museum's welcome center.
Strap into a flight simulator, walk through a model of the Skylab orbital workshop, and learn about the history of flight and the scientific study of the universe from the permanent exhibits.
Immerse yourself in space by taking in an IMAX film or a planetarium presentation. The movies—some in 3-D—employ swooping aerial scenes that make you feel as if you've left the ground and fascinating high-definition footage taken in deep space. Buy IMAX theater and planetarium tickets up to two weeks in advance or as soon as you arrive (times and prices vary); then tour the museum.
The three-story museum store is the largest in all the Smithsonian museums, and one of the best. You'll find souvenirs, clothing, books and movies, kites, and loads of collectors' items. A huge food court offers Boston Market, Donatos Pizzeria, and McDonald's fare. And if you have time, stop in at the Public Observatory on the museum's east terrace for a chance to peer through telescopes for a daytime look at the universe. It's open Wednesday through Sunday noon–3.