Even with 53,067 square feet of space, it's not easy fitting 600 spacecraft, satellites, cruise missiles and smaller relics from man's exploration of the cosmos into a single hangar at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Or even getting them in the front door.
Take the Redstone missile. At 69 feet tall, it was too big to fit through the opening of the hangar's 41-foot-tall exterior loading doors. Bringing it in horizontally was not an option, said exhibition designer William Jacobs, because displaying it that way would have taken up too much room.
Instead, the missile was dismantled in four pieces and rebuilt in the hangar. It was placed upright where the ceiling was just high enough to accommodate its pointy nose but where it would not block the view of the hangar's star artifact, the space shuttle Enterprise.
The Enterprise has been visible to visitors since the museum opened near Dulles International Airport on Dec. 15. But its hangar has been roped off while curators cleaned and restored the space shuttle and installed the other space artifacts, including the Redstone missile, a modified version of the rocket used to launch astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr.'s Mercury capsule in the first U.S. manned spaceflight in 1961.
Visitors will get their first close-up look at these and other space artifacts when the museum's James S. McDonnell Space Hangar opens Nov. 1.
The exhibition will include spacesuits, an android used to test the potential effects of space on the human body and Gemini VII, in which astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell spent 14 days in space in 1965.
Also on display will be a converted Airstream trailer that was used as the mobile quarantine facility where astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins spent 65 hours after Armstrong and Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon in 1969. There are also lunar overshoes worn by Shepard and an engineering prototype of the Mars Pathfinder lander.
The Pegasus, the first aircraft-launched rocket booster to carry satellites into space, weighs more than 5,000 pounds -- the limit for suspending an artifact from the ceiling -- so it was mounted on a stand with its nose propped at an incline.
But the star attraction is the Enterprise.
The Enterprise flew five missions but never into space. By flying it piggyback on a 747 jet and letting it go in midair, NASA used the Enterprise to test the shuttle's approach and landing capacity. The Smithsonian Institution acquired the Enterprise in 1985 but kept it in storage at Dulles Airport until it was moved to the new museum last November.
This summer the 112-foot-long shuttle was cleaned by hand and repainted, several windows were replaced and some bird nests were taken out of its tail near the engine, said Bernard Poppert Jr., who oversees restoration at the museum.
The Enterprise is still missing some exterior panels on its wings, which were removed by NASA for study during the investigation of the Columbia space shuttle disaster in February 2003.
"It probably looks better now than when it was new," said Valerie Neal, the museum's curator for contemporary human spaceflight.
The space hangar, sponsored by McDonnell's family, is named after the founder of McDonnell Aircraft Corp., which built the earliest U.S. manned spacecrafts and later merged to become McDonnell Douglas Corp., which develops military aircraft, spacecraft and missiles.
When the hangar opens, the entire museum will be accessible to the public. The Smithsonian still plans to build an archive, restoration facility and storage area at the Dulles site but needs to raise $84 million first.