Lin Ezell is going through a boot camp of sorts.

In July, Ezell, 54, a space historian and administrator with NASA and the Smithsonian Institution, became the first director of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, scheduled to open in November 2006 in Quantico, Va.

Ezell has no background in the military. So she has been taking a crash course in all things Marines, from chowing down with recruits to observing crucible training, a 54-hour field exercise that represents the final test recruits must pass before becoming Marines.

"The Marines have a saying that, 'If you can't hire a Marine, you hire a civilian and you turn them green,' " Ezell said. "And greening is what is happening."

Ezell needs no introduction to the challenge of getting a new museum up and running. As a program manager, she led the Smithsonian's effort to design, build and open the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport, which opened to stellar reviews in December 2003.

After 10 years at NASA, Ezell, a graduate of the University of Illinois at Springfield and the University of Maryland, joined the National Air and Space Museum in 1984 as a historian and curator. Over the years, she gravitated toward jobs with more management responsibilities, including posts as assistant director for collections management and executive officer of the museum.

"Without really intending to, I kind of went up the ranks in museum management positions," Ezell said. "I didn't plan on making a career of it, but it seems I really, really enjoy the work."

She will get plenty of it over the next year. The Marine Corps museum, which will be on a 135-acre site near Marine Corps Base Quantico, is supposed to have 118,000 square feet on opening day, and expand to almost 181,000 square feet.

The museum, to be funded with private money and operated with help from the Marine Corps, will tell the history of the Corps and its contributions for an audience of military members and civilians. Admission will be free, and exhibits will strive for an "immersion" experience. For instance, visitors will enter the Vietnam exhibit through a CH-46 helicopter and emerge in an area with special lighting and heating designed to evoke a jungle atmosphere.

Opening day "might sound like a long ways away, but this last year is going to be really action-packed to make sure we get everything done," Ezell said. "It's a 360-degree sort of experience. It's a very ambitious exhibition program, and that's what we'll be scrambling to complete."

-- Christopher Lee

Lin Ezell, shown at the National Air and Space Museum Dulles annex, will head the Marine Corps museum opening next year in Quantico, Va.