More inclusive Air and Space Museum will feel new, no matter how many times you’ve been before

The Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum has been closed since the end of March, allowing for the museum to undergo a massive indoor makeover. Pretty soon it’ll be ready to open to the public again.

While the total project won’t wrap up for another three years, the museum will reopen eight new galleries comprising about half of the space inside the museum Oct. 14. And no matter how many times you’ve walked through the museum before, curators promise a much different experience the next time you visit.

“Almost half of the artifacts now on display are in the building for the first time,” said Christopher Browne, director of the museum. “One of our goals is that everybody who enters the museum, wherever they come from, whatever they look like, whatever their interests, however they present, that they can connect to the human stories and the artifacts that we have here in this museum.”

That means making sure everyone can see themselves in their stories.

“You’ll see stories, certainly, of Chuck Yeager,” the first person to go faster than the speed of sound, Browne said. But they’re also displaying the T-38 flown by Jackie Cochran, the first woman to break the sound barrier. “When she died, she held more records than any man alive,” Browne said. “We’re amplifying the story.”

The human journey through space, including trips to the moon, are also well represented. There’s lunar capsules, rovers, and even giant F1 rocket engines you can stand under (before you could just stand next to them), giving you a new perspective of the ingenuity and effort needed to leave the earth’s atmosphere.

Some artifacts are on display for the first time in decades.

“This is a totally new imagining of the moon gallery,” said Michael Neufeld, the senior curator of space history at the museum. “The old moon gallery was done just after Apollo — we assumed everyone knew what was in there and had happened in Apollo. This gallery presents it for a public who grew up long after Apollo was over, wasn’t alive for the landing on the moon. We have to tell everybody the whole story of Apollo.”

Just across the hall from that gallery is a new planetarium.

In addition, the Air and Space Museum will also have new family-friendly amenities. The bathrooms have been redone to include family bathrooms, and there are feeding rooms for new mothers, as well as quiet rooms when kids need a break. The café in the basement is Mars-themed and serves “bird-safe” coffee from Maryland-based Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company. There’s also a new, much larger, gift shop.

“We think that there will be something for everybody when they come here,” said Browne. “And they’ll want to come here more than once, I’ll dare say.”

See more photos below.

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