Tuesday 3 April 2012

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Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

You guys are good salespeople. When we asked for recommendations as to which of the Smithsonian museums we couldn't miss during our limited time in Washington, the number one suggestion was easily the Air & Space Museum. Everybody said that this was the most interesting of the Smithsonian exhibits, and far and away the most likely to captivate my "slightly" jaded kids. You weren't wrong. My kids, whose museum track record is spotty at best, made it through the couple of hours that we spent at the museum with a minimal amount of complaining. As a follow up to the Art of Video Games, the Air & Space museum was a passable success for the kids.

Lori and I on the other hand, were a little underwhelmed. I'm not sure what we were expecting from the Air & Space Museum. For some reason I guess I thought that I would be captivated with every display, and I'd be moved by seeing things that I'd never seen before. We did see things we'd never seen before, at least not up close, but I found it more interesting than inspiring. It was "Neat" instead of "Wow".

There were exceptions. The Wright Brothers Flyer was an absolute highlight. There's not much better for showing your kids that "impossible" is just a word than what Orville and Wilbur came up with a century ago. Of course the flyer was one of the most crowded spots, but you just couldn't help but linger and read all the information posted around the room. Did you know that the left wing of the glider was five inches longer than the right wing in order to make up for the motor being mounted on the right hand side? I would never have thought of that, and I'm pretty sure if I'd invented the flyer, you would have seen me doing left hand circles endlessly up in the sky.

Unfortunately the least interesting parts were the interactive displays. I realize that most of the interactive area is intended for young children, but from the Smithsonian, I kind of expected a little more. Most of the hands-on displays are the kind of thing that I see every year at my children's science fairs, and we're not talking about the prize winning experiments either. I suppose that the basics of air and space travel are just that...basic, but there have to be more interesting aspects to focus on. As I toured the Air & Space museum, I kept wondering why the focus seemed to be more on the museum and less on the air and space.

As usual, it turns out that the answer is "It's my fault". I'll admit that I didn't do a whole lot of research when it came to the Smithsonian. I glanced at a map, saw that all the buildings were around the National Mall area, and figured that we could just explore on the day that we'd set aside for touring the museums. If I'd spent any time investigating in advance, I would have discovered that the Air & Space museum had two parts to it. The section in the D.C. area is merely a small portion of the items that they have for display. The rest of the items are kept at the Udvar-Hazy Center out by Dulles airport. That's where you'll find the cruise missiles, satellites, and space shuttles. Oops.

Now in all fairness, I couldn't have fit a day trip back out to Dulles into our schedule anyways, but I might have understood the display selections at the National Mall location better. We might have chosen to spend a little less time in the Air & Space Museum and gone to visit one of the other museums instead. It definitely would have changed our opinion of the museum if we'd known that we were only scratching the surface of what they had to offer. Instead, our visit will simply serve as a reminder not to let Dad plan things without a little supervision. As if we needed to learn that lesson again.