National Air and Space Museum Launches Space Hangar

Air Power History, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

National Air and Space Museum Launches Space Hangar


Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center will get their first chance to explore the remarkable holdings in its newly filled space hangar on Monday, Nov. 1.

Although the Udvar-Hazy (pronounced OOD-var HAH-zee) Center in Chantilly, Virginia, opened to much acclaim last December, the 53,000-square-foot James S. McDonnell Space Hangar was inaccessible because of the needed refurbishment of its centerpiece, the Space Shuttle Enterprise. With that project now completed, hundreds of other artifacts have been installed in the exhibition hall, from a 69-foot floor-to-ceiling Redstone missile to the tiny "Anita," a spider carried on Skylab for web formation experiments.

The hangar and its holdings illustrate the scope of space exploration history as organized around four main themes: rocketry and missiles; human spaceflight; application satellites and space science.

"The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum has always been known as the home of the icons of flight. The James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Udvar-Hazy Center gives us the chance to share much more of our vast collection as we present the story of space exploration in richer detail," museum director Gen. J.R. "Jack" Dailey said.

A total of 113 large space artifacts are housed in the hangar. The biggest and heaviest, including Enterprise, an instrument ring segment of a Saturn V rocket that was never built, and a Space Shuttle main engine are displayed at ground level. An array of cruise missiles, satellites, and space telescopes hangs from above.

The hangar features two elevated overlooks that allow visitors to study suspended artifacts straight-on and ground-level displays from above.

More than 500 smaller artifacts are exhibited in customized cases throughout the hangar including advanced spacesuit prototypes; research crystals formed in orbit; sounding rocket payloads; space-themed toys from the 1950s and 1960s and even borscht in tubes, prepared for Soviet cosmonauts.

The oldest artifact in the hangar, the Ritchey Grinding Machine, dates back to the 1890s, when it was used to craft a 60inch mirror for a Wisconsin observatory telescope. The newest artifact is an engineering model created by U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen for a class project. The PCSat communications satellite was launched in 2001 and is still in orbit.

Many of the objects now in the space hangar had been in storage for decades. A portion was previewed over the past months in the Udvar-Hazy Center's aviation hangar.

The museum's unparalleled space collection is built on an agreement that gives the Smithsonian first option to acquire any equipment used and then retired by NASA. The collection includes every retired American spacecraft that flew humans and returned safely to Earth; every spacesuit used to walk on the moon and backups or engineering models of nearly every major American satellite or probe.

Space artifacts from other nations have been donated by individuals and governments or are displayed on loan.

Other unique artifacts now exhibited in the McDonnell Space Hangar include:

the manned maneuvering unit used for the first-ever untethered spacewalk

a film return capsule from the last Corona satellite spy mission over the U.

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