The Apollo 11 Command Module Colombia landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969, 51 years ago today.  It is housed at the National Air and Space Museum.  Perhaps it is in honor of the successful completion of the first manned mission to the Moon that the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum (the Annex) reopened to the public today.

The Annex is located near Washington Dulles International Airport and is the companion facility to the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  The National Mall location remains closed.

In November 2016, following the internment of my father, a World War II vet, at the Columbarium at Arlington National Cemetery, family and friends visited some of the sights in DC.  Two places were on everyone’s list of sights to see.  One was the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  The other was the National Air and Space Museum Annex since we’d all been to the National Mall location previously.

The Annex contains hundreds of historically significant aircraft and spacecraft, along with thousands of small artifacts displayed in a hangar-like setting.  Admission is free.  However, currently admission is limited due to the pandemic.  Visitors must reserve a time slot by visiting the museum website.

Being close to Dulles makes the annex difficult to get to from DC.  The website  provides directions from various points by car.  There is public transportation from central DC.  Take the Metro Silver Line to Wiehle-Reston East station and transfer to Fairfax Connector Bus 983. Get off at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center stop.  The trip takes about 90 minutes.  Bus 983 also provides access from Dulles Airport.


In case you are wondering.  Steven F. Udvar-Hazy is an American billionaire born in Hungary who started one of the first commercial aircraft leasing companies.

Here are some of the museum highlights.

There are dozens of military aircraft from WWI to the present including stealth fighters.

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Curtis P-40 Warhawk flown by the Flying Tigers in Burma and China during the early stages of U.S. involvement in WWII.

Enola Gay was the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, a tragic but historic event.

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B-29s were the first bombers with a pressurized cabin and tricycle landing gear.  The  machine guns operated remotely with the assistance of an analog computer. The B-29 program development and production cost was 20 times more expensive than the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bomb.

The Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird” is a long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft developed and manufactured at the Lockheed Corporation “skunk works” by famed engineer Kelly Johnson.  It entered service in 1966 and still holds the record as the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft.  The Blackbird flew at 85,000 ft and reached speeds up to 2,193 mph (3,529 km/h).  The Blackbird’s final flights were in 1999.

The Blackbird also remains unmatched as far as looks.

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The museum also houses many important civilian aircraft.

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The Boeing B-307 Stratoliner was the first commercial airliner with a pressurized cabin. It debuted in 1940.

The Concorde was a supersonic commercial airliner developed by the British and French.  It had a maximum speed of just over twice the speed of sound (Mach 2.04,  1,354 mph or 2,180 km/h at cruise altitude).  The Concorde entered service in 1976 and continued flying for the next 27 years.  It could seat between 92 and 128 passengers.

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Concorde Fox Alpha

The annex has many important vehicles from manned and unmanned spaceflight programs.

Mars Pathfinder was launched December 4, 1996 and landed on Mars’ Ares Vallis on July 4, 1997.  The lander, renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station following its successful touchdown, and the rover, named Sojourner after American civil rights crusader Sojourner Truth, both outlived their design lives and returned billions of bits of data and over 17,000 pictures from the surface of Mars.

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Mars rover, Sojourner, (left) and Mars lander, Pathfinder, (right).

Apollo Command Module Columbia which returned astronauts Collins, Aldrin, and Armstrong to Earth 51 years ago today is displayed in the Annex.

Apollo 11 Command Module "Columbia" (A19700102000)
Apollo 11 Command Module “Columbia” Photograph by Eric Long
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View of the interior of Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia

The biggest exhibit in size and popularity is the space shuttle Discovery.  Discovery is one of five orbiters NASA built as part of its Space Transportation System.  Discovery’s first mission, STS-41-D, launched on August 30, 1984.  It remained in service for 27 years until the space shuttle program was cancelled.  Discovery launched and landed 39 times racking up more flights than any other spacecraft in history.

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Black ceramic tiles were designed to protect the craft and occupants from the searing heat of entering the atmosphere. Failure of the ceramic tiles on shuttle Columbia caused the loss of the vehicle and crew and contributed to the cancellation of the shuttle program.
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It might appear that the U.S. flag is backwards. Per regulations, the flag must always be positioned to look like it is flying forward.
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Space shuttle large main engines used in conjunction with solid rocket boosters during ascent and smaller orbital maneuvering system engines used to change orbit and to enter the atmosphere.

The space shuttle was a beautiful craft.  Its ability to fly multiple missions promised to make space flight more affordable.  Unfortunately, the design was fatally flawed.

The museum gives visitors a chance to experience the wonders of flight.  My nephew and I flew a combat mission in a flight simulator designed to fly like an F-4 Phantom II.

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Strap in.  The simulator pitches up and down and rolls 360° on command.  We got four “boggies” before our mission ended.  It is a great deal for $10.

Mementos are always a good idea, and your group can take home a picture as a space shuttle crew.

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L-R Bart Brown, Susan Brown, Claudia Polley, Aimee Brown, Amanda King, Duncan King, me.

Final Thoughts

Next time you are DC, be sure to take the time and effort to go to Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall.