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Air & Space Museum Expands

The long-awaited James S. McDonnell Space Hangar is finally complete at the Dulles Air and Space Museum. Although the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly has been open for nearly a year, the new space hangar has been waiting for its center piece, a refurbished Space Shuttle Enterprise. The 53,000 square-foot hangar will be officially opened to visitors Monday, Nov. 1, 2004.

The James S. McDonnell Space Hangar has four major themes which illustrate the scope of space exploration history, according to Dr. Robert Launius. On the front left side of the hangar visitors will find a salute to human space flight. All space flight vehicles flown by the United States can be seen here. The Gemini VII is also on display.

“THE GEMINI VII was the target for the world’s first space rondez-vous,” said Michael Neufeld, Mercury and Gemini curator.

The front right side is dedicated to rockets and missiles. Here, visitors will find Pegasus, the first aircraft-launched rocket booster to carry satellites into space.

In the far left corner, a full-scale engineering prototype of the Mars Pathfinder Lander stands fully intact, along with a space control panel. This section is dedicated to space science.

The final area, the far right, displays the Spartan 201 satellite, along with other application satellites. “The Spartan is the newest artifact in the museum. It flew in space five times before landing in the museum,” said Solar Physics Curator David DeVorkin.

The restoration of the hangar’s centerpiece, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, was headed up by Vallerie Neal. According to Neal, the space shuttle’s paint job alone required the work of 10 people. Visitors are not allowed inside the Enterprise, “there is nothing inside it anyway,” said museum director Gen. Jack Daily. Work on the center began in 1998, and the main hangar opened in December of 2003, after two years of construction. The James S. McDonnell hangar took about 10 months to complete and after the Enterprise was in place, move-in took around three to four months. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center holds 80 percent of the artifacts in the National Air and Space Museum.

“WHEN WE opened the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, we promised more to see and more to do. We have kept our promise, there is now more to see, and we’ve added space,” said Daily. The hangar houses more than 113 large space artifacts including a floor-to-ceiling Redstone missile and a ring segment of a Saturn V rocket, as well as hundreds of smaller artifacts like research crystals formed in orbit, advanced spacesuit prototypes, and space-themed toys. The oldest artifact, the Ritchey Grinding Machine, dates back to the 1890s. It was used to craft a 60-inch mirror for a Wisconsin observatory telescope. Due to lack of space, many of the artifacts on display have been in storage.

“The first step in designing this museum was bringing everything out of storage and piecing them back together. The Redstone rocket, and most other large artifacts, were in storage canisters for decades,” said museum designer William Jacobs. There is still much more to bring out. Allan Needell, curator of the Apollo collection, has said that the Saturn V rocket is currently being restored for display.

“We are trying to get as many artifacts in here as we can. We still have plenty of space and plenty of artifacts to enhance the visitors' experience,” said Jacobs.

THE MCDONNELL space hangar is named for aerospace pioneer James S. McDonnell, whose company built both the Mercury and Gemini spacecrafts, which carried the first American astronauts. His company, McDonnell Aircraft Corp., along with Douglas Aircraft Corp., produced the third stage of the Saturn V rocket and built Skylab, America’s first space station.

Since its opening, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center has attracted more than 1.5 million visitors, and it is estimated that another 2 million will visit within the next year. The addition of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center makes the National Air and Space Museum the largest air and space complex in the world.

In honor of the center’s one-year anniversary, 21 additional aircrafts will be added to the aviation hangar, including the Westland Lysander IIIA and the Bell H-13J, the first helicopter to carry a U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. On Saturday, Dec. 11, the center will be holding an anniversary celebration. Guests will receive free tickets to the new IMAX film “Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag,” and enjoy live entertainment, story times for children, and astronaut appearances.

“We are on the verge of watching all the hard work and dedication become a reality, and we are so excited,” said Dr. Robert Launius, museum chairman.