The birthplace of flight, the United States is home to the world's biggest and best aviation museums showcasing everything from the first airplanes and fighter jets to rockets and satellites. With the end of NASA's Space Shuttle program, four shuttles – Atlantis, Discovery, Endeavour, and Enterprise – will be retired to aviation museums around the country. Read on to learn more about the many aviation museums in the U.S. and what exhibits you will find there.
The nation's best-known aviation museum is also the most visited museum in the world. Housed here in its building on the National Mall are the Wright Brothers' 1903 Flyer, the Apollo Lunar Module, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, and countless other historic planes, unmanned aerial vehicles, and space capsules. NASM also features the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater and the Albert Einstein Planetarium.
Home of Space Shuttle Discovery. This branch of the National Air and Space Museum, named for its largest donor Steven F. Udvar-Hazy, opened in 2003 in a sprawling facility near Washington Dulles International Airport. Included among its collection are the World War II bomber Enola Gay, the de Havilland Chipmunk aerobatic airplane, the Concorde, and Space Shuttle Discovery.
Home of Space Shuttle Enterprise. This museum aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid displays all manner of military aircraft, a British Airways Concorde, and also allows visitors to explore the carrier and the Growler submarine. Space Shuttle Enterprise is on view in a building at Pier 86 built expressly for displaying the spacecraft.
Home of Space Shuttle Atlantis. The premier museum in the country dedicated to space exploration, the Visitor Complex at the Kennedy Space Center includes a shuttle launch experience simulator, a Rocket Garden, and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Also here is the "Explorer," a full-sized replica of a shuttle, which is arguably overshadowed by the recent addition of the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
Home of Space Shuttle Endeavour. This top science museum in Los Angeles is best known for its many hands-on science exhibits and IMAX Theater. But it also has some impressive air and space exhibits, which include the Apollo-Soyuz Command Module, the F-20 Tigershark, and Sputnik. When Space Shuttle Endeavour becomes a permanent part of the museum, it will be the centerpiece of CalSci's 25-year plan to build a new gallery dedicated to aeronautics and space exploration.
The visitor's center for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston welcomes visitors with an Astronaut Gallery, which contains the world's largest collection of spacesuits, the Apollo 17 Command Module, and a space simulator, among many other exhibits.
Located just north of Seattle, the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour is a must-visit city for aviation enthusiasts. Visitors here have the chance to see how commercial jets are constructed as well as design their own dream plane.
True space enthusiasts know that the site of the first Space Camp was at the Space and Rocket Center. Come here as a camper to take part in Space Camp, a modified version of astronaut training, or simply visit the campus to tour its rocket garden and the many artifacts that made this the hub of the Space Race during the 1960s.
Opened on December 7, 2006, on Pearl Harbor's Ford Island, the Pacific Aviation Museum focuses mainly on planes and artifacts from World War II. Its Hangar 37 houses the Japanese Zero fighter and the Aeronca 65TC, the first American plane engaged in combat in World War II.
The Cosmosphere and Space Center focuses on the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. The museum has the largest collection of Russian/Soviet space artifacts outside of Moscow, including Sputnik 1 and 2 and a Russian Vostok spacecraft. Other artifacts include the Liberty Bell 7 Mercury Spacecraft and a Titan rocket.