America’s air and space museums are places where dreams take flight.
While they are popular among travelers of all ages, these museums offer excellent out-of-class learning experiences meant to enhance students’ educations. Here are eight air and space museums student travel planners should include on their itineraries.
Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum
Situated in north-central Colorado, Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum can be found in Hangar 1 of the former Lowry Air Force Base, which closed in 1994. The museum comprises over 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, but learning actually begins before students even walk through the museum’s doors. Outside its entrance sits a Boeing B-52, a type of plane utilized by the U.S. Air Force since the 1950s. While this plane alone can teach many lessons, groups have access to a collection of aircraft, space vehicles, military uniforms and artifacts once inside.
While groups can peruse the museum’s multiple exhibits on their own, the museum offers two guided tours. The 90-minute Aerodynamics Tour highlights the science behind the design and shape of different aircraft, while the 60-minute Space Tour covers things like the history of modern rocketry, space science and life outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
For nearly 20 years, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia has introduced visitors to aviation and space exploration. Visitors can explore the Boeing Aviation Hangar, which features multiple aircraft resting on the floor and suspended in the air. One example is the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, which is known for dropping the first atomic bomb during World War II. The James S. McDonnell Space Hangar focuses more on space travel. Inside, groups can find the Space Shuttle Discovery, as well as the Mobile Quarantine Facility, where the astronauts of Apollo 11 stayed post-landing, among other things.
Student groups can request a one-hour docent-led tour or participate in a 25-minute demonstration, where museum staff show how things fly on Earth and in space. Plus, the museum’s free STEAM Labs educate students on science, technology, engineering, art and math through demonstrations, experiments and hands-on activities.
Cosmosphere, an international science education center and space museum, is an unexpected treasure of central Kansas. While founded in 1962, this once-small planetarium has grown into a 105,000-square-foot museum. It features Carey Digital Dome Theater, which screens a selection of documentaries; Dr. Goddard’s Lab, an interactive show based in the father of modern rocketry’s lab; an interactive play area called CosmoKids; Justice Planetarium; and the Hall of Space, which showcases a collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts. Depending on the experience they are hoping to have, student groups can choose between two passes that provide them access to different attractions.
San Diego Air and Space Museum
Located in Balboa Park, the San Diego Air and Space Museum preserves and celebrates the history of aviation and aerospace. The museum is filled with air and spacecraft from multiple countries, and visitors can spend hours immersing themselves in its many exhibits and artifacts. One of its most prominent exhibits is the International Air and Space Hall of Fame, which celebrates those who have paved the way for air and space flight, such as Neil Armstrong. Other great exhibits include the American Women of Flight, which celebrates the contributions women have made to the world of aviation, and SPACE: Our Greatest Adventure, which explores mankind’s quest for the stars.
Student groups can request a 30-minute guided tour as well as an interactive workshop and a dynamic presentation. Examples of workshops include the Engineering Challenge: Solar Machines and Engineering Challenge: Mars Rovers.
Texas Air and Space Museum
On the grounds of the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport in the Texas Panhandle is the intriguing Texas Air and Space Museum. This facility aims to honor the servicemen and women, aviators and astronauts of northwest Texas. Home to multiple exhibits, it showcases numerous aircraft, like the NASA Shuttle Training Aircraft, which Space Shuttle pilots used to simulate landings, as well as models by model-maker Jack Rude. Other exhibits highlight the lives of some of Texas’ great aviators, like Robert Speed, who built an airplane called Bearcat.
To help inspire the next generation, the museum offers regional primary and secondary education programs, where museum staff present an approved curriculum to the student groups who visit. Plus, volunteer tour guides are available for groups looking to learn more about the museum’s exhibits and artifacts.
Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
Big-name air, sea and spacecraft fill the rooms of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City. Among highlights are the USS Intrepid — which was used during World War II, the Cold War and the Vietnam War — and Enterprise, the first space shuttle orbiter.
While here, students can immerse themselves in the museum and all it has to offer. Options include examining original artifacts, viewing historic video footage and exploring the many interactive exhibits. Groups can choose to take a self-guided or guided tour of the museum or take part in one of the museum’s hour-long educational programs, which are tailored to specific grade levels. The programs focus on topics related to STEM and social studies/history. Should groups want to take their museum experience to the next level, they can also choose to spend the night and sleep among the aircraft.
The Museum of Flight
History shines brightly at the Museum of Flight, which is in the Puget Sound region of Washington. Here, groups can cast their eyes on more than 175 air and spacecraft, tens of thousands of artifacts, millions of rare photos and much more. While it often boasts temporary exhibits, the museum is also home to several permanent ones, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park, which features a tribute wall honoring those who served in the war, as well as the B-52G Stratofortress 59-2584 Midnight Express, which was flown during Operation Linebacker II.
Students can enhance their experience by taking part in the museum’s Boeing Academy for STEM Learning programs. Available to those in grades K-12, the programs, which combine engineering challenges with hands-on scientific investigations, focus on aviation, space and robotics. Plus, the museum provides educational resources and information that students can utilize before, during and after taking part in one of the programs.
Pima Air and Space Museum
Nestled in southeast Arizona, the Pima Air and Space Museum first opened its doors in 1976. Known for being one of the largest nongovernment-funded air and space museums in the world, Pima offers six indoor exhibit hangars and 80 acres worth of outdoor displays. Given its large space and excellent collection, groups can spend multiple days at the museum. A few exhibits they can explore include Arizona Aviation, which celebrates the state’s centennial; Air War in Southeast Asia, which looks at the airpower used during the Vietnam War; and Women in Flight, which shows the role women have played in aviation.
When it comes to exploring, groups can choose guided or self-guided tours. The museum offers several classes related to aviation and engineering.