In December we went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Udvar Hazy Center, the newer Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Virginia near Dulles Airport. We spent only four hours but could have easily taken the entire day to explore this great museum.
A few basics to begin: Admission to the museum is free since it is a Smithsonian museum. However, parking is $15 per car, and while it is possible to take public transportation there, most people will find it easiest to drive based on the location of the museum. There is only one food option at the museum – McDonalds. If you bring your lunch, you may eat at the picnic tables outside the museum since outside food and drink are not allowed in the museum.
The museum has a number of fun things to do. If you check the online calendar beforehand, they may have an event going on that day. They have storytime most weekdays and other events, as well. On the day we visited, they had a special twenty-minute puppet show about the Wright Brothers which all three of my children (ages 2½, 4½, and 6½) enjoyed. They also have an IMAX theater with various educational videos. There is a fee for the theater, but they had a nice selection of videos when we went. We did not end up watching one, but I noted two that would have been both interesting and educational for my six-year-old. They also have simulator rides for a fee. There is a flight simulator where you can either control a plane, which is appropriate for older children, or choose from a variety of programs for the ride simulator, including a space walk. Both my four- and six-year-olds enjoyed their simulator ride to watch repairs on the Hubble telescope.
The main part of the museum is broken into two large areas. One has all the planes and the other houses the spacecraft Discovery. We enjoyed looking at all the different types of planes and helicopters. We saw one of the Wright Brothers’ planes and numerous early planes, as well as newer planes and helicopters. We also got the see the Concorde plane and were able to discuss how fast it went and how it could carry a lot more people than some of the older planes which only held one or two people. We also discussed the various helicopters and looked at different types, such as emergency helicopteres used to take people to the hospital. We saw planes that could take off and land in water and discussed how different types of aircraft needed different amounts of space to take off and land. We compared how a helicopter could land without a runway, while all planes needed a runway to get off the ground or to land.
After we finished looking at the myriad types of planes and helicopters, we moved to the space area. At an exhibit with space suits, the children were able to put on a glove from a training suit and examine the suit itself. They learned that it takes three hours to don the suit and were able to see what astronauts wear when they are out in space. We then continued on to the spaceship Discovery. We looked at the Mercury capsule which let them see the difference in size between the large Discovery and the early small one-person space capsules. We also looked at the Mobile Quarantine Facility, which is where the moon astronauts were quarantined for the first few days after their return to Earth. We discussed what it would have been like to visit the moon and why astronauts went into space. We also saw assorted missiles and satellites. We looked at the replicas of the Mars Pathfinder Lander and Sojourner Rover and discussed why NASA sent a rover to Mars rather than astronauts. We learned that scientists are working on ways to one day transport people to Mars, as well.
We had a lot of fun exploring the spacecrafts and airplanes at the museum and spent a good four hours visiting the museum before my children were done. With older children we likely would have spent even longer at the museum. We will definitely go back. We had a great afternoon, and my children still sing songs from the Wright Brothers puppet show even now, two months later.
Sarah–Sarah is the wife of Dan and mom to Desmond, Eloise and Sullivan (Sully). She enjoys reading, board games, D&D, computer and console games, the Oxford comma, and organizing fun trips. Sarah and Dan decided years before they had children that they would be homeschooling and now they are. Their family has enjoyed beginning their homeschooling journey and the early elementary years. There are a lot of fun opportunities upcoming in the next year as well, including Eloise starting Kindergarten at home, numerous trips to Atlanta, and a month long trip to India. They currently reside in a suburb of Washington DC and enjoy all the local attractions available for day trips.