The Smithsonian will close the Air and Space Museum on the National Mall on March 28 for at least six months as it completes the first phase of a seven-year renovation that is expected to cost more than $1 billion.
But after the project got underway in late 2018, they realized a partial closure would be necessary, explained acting director Chris Browne.
“There was so much unknown about the complexity of the project, the scope of the project, the phasing,” he said. “We learned a lot more along the way.”
Covid forced the flagship museum to close for almost 14 months between March 14, 2020, and May 5, 2021. Construction continued, but there were delays and cost increases, Browne said. Museum officials considered staying closed to complete the west wing’s renovation, but they determined it would not result in cost or time savings, he said.
“We are endeavoring to open it as soon as we can, with all-new gallery spaces and many new artifacts,” Browne said. The existing galleries are being redesigned; no new space is being added.
About 40 percent of the objects will be displayed for the first time. Among the highlights will be the X-wing Starfighter from the movie “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and the Northrop T-38A Talon that Jackie Cochran, the first woman to break the sound barrier in 1953, used to set eight world speed, altitude and distance records in 1961.
The museum’s companion space, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., closed twice — for several months each time — because of covid, but it has reopened and is an alternative for visitors, Browne noted.
The project began in late 2018 with the closing of the museum’s western half. Congress appropriated $650 million for the work, which includes replacing the mechanical systems and marble exterior, and $50 million for storage space to house the large artifacts during construction. The Smithsonian has asked Congress for $79 million more over the next two years for cost increases due to supply chain and other issues.
The Smithsonian pledged to raise $250 million from private donors for new galleries, and has brought in $232 million so far, Browne said.
When it opens eight renovated galleries in the fall of 2022, the museum will close the building’s eastern half for the final phase of the project, expected to be completed in 2025.