Max Kibblewhite spent all night at the Air and Space Museum to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the iconic building and lived to tell about it. Here’s the report:
When the National Air and Space Museum flagship building opened amid great fanfare during the country’s bicentennial year on July 1, 1976, it was immediately obvious that the iconic building was a hit. Just six months later, more than 5 million visitors had passed through its doors.
Forty years later, Air and Space is one of the most visited museums in the world. To celebrate the anniversary, the museum hosted “All Night at the Museum,” a celebration featuring the reopening of the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, the Air and Space Museum’s central gallery space. The hall’s renovation, which began in 2014, introduces the first new interpretation and digital experience to the museum since its debut. Some of the night’s special activities included a film festival, tours, demonstrations, music by the Air Force Band and special giveaways.
The renovated Milestones of Flight presents a new layout for some of its original displays, including the Friendship 7 Mercury capsule that John Glenn flew in 1962 and Gemini 4 spacecraft that supported the first American spacewalk. It also incorporates new exhibits, including an Apollo Lunar Module and the filming model for Star Trek’s Enterprise.
To kick off the evening’s celebration, Air and Space Director Gen. J. R. (Jack) Dailey reminded the assembled crowd of the museum’s mission: to inspire the future by looking at the past. Nicole Malachowski, the first female pilot to fly with the U.S. Air Force’s famed Thunderbirds, explained how she was living proof of that mission, having first been inspired to fly as a 12-year-old girl wandering awestruck through the museum’s galleries. She directed her remarks to the many young people in the audience, encouraging them to seek their own inspiration throughout the evening.
After a countdown led by NASA and the crew on-board the International Space Station, the doors to the museum were flung open to welcome a new generation of visitors. Staff and blue-vested volunteers were standing by, handing out maps, directions, giveaways and smiles.
The Media Wall, with its 21 gleaming touch screens, ushers the museum into the 21st Century. The largest of its kind in the world, the wall allows visitors to plan their own itinerary. The wall can also sync with the user’s phone and the Air and Space Museum’s latest app, GoFlight, for a more intimate and in-palm experience.
The new Welcome desk was a calm center amidst the crowds of excited visitors. Finished just in time for the reopening of Milestones of Flight, the desk provides 360 degrees of services for visitors.
As soon as the muggy July skies cleared, ebullient educator Shauna Edson was ready for action at the Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory. “I have a personal motto: ‘Get your daily dose of wonder,’” she said. “I get to incite wonder in kids and adults every day here at Air and Space. Right now, we’re looking at Saturn, and you can actually see its rings!”
Several curators and docents volunteered to give tours throughout the evening, weaving through the crowds and leading with glow sticks in hand.
Curators David DeVorkin and Layne Karafantis joined writer and actor Kevin Murphy from Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait for live commentary on Destination Moon (1950). Laughter began in the theater before the opening credits had concluded. DeVorkin, who saw the film when he was 7 years old during its first run in theaters, quipped, ”It’s still just as bad as I remember.”
As Friday rolled into Saturday, volunteers at the Welcome Desk distributed clues for the Scavenger Hunt. Flocks of players scoured the Museum’s artifacts and panels for clues. Do you know the color of the Martian sky in the first photo taken by the Viking Lander?*
Participants in a special Air and Space version of the well-known game show, “Family Feud,” learned that what is common knowledge to an astronomer may not be all that common to anyone else. When asked to “Name a Famous Astronomer, one contestant exclaimed, “Tycho Brahe!” When the audience reacted with blank confusion, Space History Curator Paul Ceruzzi explained helpfully, “Brahe was one of the last astronomers to make all his observations with the naked eye. He also is known for his bronze prosthetic nose.”
More than 54,000 people attended all or part of the nightlong festivities—a party 40 years in the making. We can’t wait until the next one!
*The color of the sky in the first photo of the surface of Mars taken by the Viking Lander in 1976 was salmon.
Posted: 11 July 2016