Although it's long been debated whether Ohio, North Carolina, or Connecticut should claim the "first in flight" title, there is one thing nobody disagrees on: Americans were the first to put humans in the sky. For more than a century now, the States' history with aviation has been a source of pride, gracing license plates and warranting more air and space museums than any other country in the world.
They have a range of focuses, of course, from military varieties to NASA space centers. In some, you'll find hundred-year-old aircrafts; others, alternatively, are fixed on what flying will be like in the future. There is a seemingly bottomless supply of aviation genres and hundreds of museums in which to explore them.
The nation's most well-known aviation museum is also one of the world's most visited. Housed in a series of marble-encased cubes on the National Mall are the Wright Brothers' famous 1903 Flyer, the Apollo Lunar Module, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, and countless other historic planes, unmanned aerial vehicles, and space capsules. Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum also has an IMAX theater and planetarium.
A branch of the National Air and Space Museum, this sprawling facility near Washington Dulles International Airport is where you can see the World War II bomber Enola Gay, the de Havilland Canada DHC-1 Chipmunk (an aerobatic plane), the Concorde, and—perhaps its most popular exhibit—Space Shuttle Discovery.
Military aircrafts and vessels stationed on the edge of the Hudson River stand out in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan's West Side. They all belong to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, New York's hub for old-school combat aircraft, maritime ships, and space artifacts, such as a British Airways Concorde, the Growler submarine, and Space Shuttle Enterprise, which is so big it has its own building.
In case Disney World's EPCOT just isn't enough, there's a museum dedicated to space exploration—the real-life kind, that is—nearby. The Visitor Complex at the Kennedy Space Center has a shuttle launch experience simulator, a Rocket Garden, and a U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Here is also home to Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Amid the museum hub that occupies a hefty chunk of Downtown Los Angeles, this science center is particularly fun because of its abundance of hands-on exhibits. It also houses a series of impressive artifacts, including the Apollo-Soyuz Command Module, the F-20 Tigershark, and Sputnik. Many come, however, just to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Houston is home to the country's astronaut corps and the International Space Station mission operations, both of which are headquartered at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Inside is a cluster of minds all working on top-secret information and missions that could change the future of space travel, which means nobody's allowed in. There is, however, a visitor center that operates as a museum in itself. It has the world's largest collection of spacesuits, the Apollo 17 Command Module, and a space simulator.
Just north of Seattle is the Boeing Future of Flight Museum, where visitors can watch commercial jets be built right in front of their eyes and design their own dream planes, too. This gallery occupies the largest building in the world (by volume) and is packed with massive aircrafts that would make any aviation enthusiast swoon.
The first ever Space Camp took place here at the Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Kids between the age of 9 and 11 are still able to participate in the six-day program, too. Visitors may sign up for a modified version of astronaut training or, rather, take a quick campus tour to see the many artifacts that made this a centerpiece of the Space Race during the 1960s.
Ford Island in Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces in 1941. Now, an aviation museum in Honolulu commemorates the historic event that took place on this Oahu islet years ago. Inside it, visitors will find a treasure trove of artifacts from that era. Hangar 37 houses the Japanese Zero fighter and the Aeronca 65TC, the first American plane engaged in combat in World War II.
Kansas' Cosmosphere is both a museum—one with the largest collection of Russian/Soviet space artifacts outside of Moscow, actually—and an education center. The focus here is mainly on the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Exhibits include Sputnik 1 and 2, a Russian Vostok spacecraft, the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury Spacecraft, and a Titan rocket.