The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is set to begin seven years of renovations starting summer 2018, in the first renovations since its opening in 1976.
The renovations will include repairs and maintenance to the building on Independence Avenue and the installations of new exhibits, as well as updates to existing pieces within the museum, which was the most-visited museum in the world in 2016.
Parts of the museum are to remain open during regular 10 a.m.-to-5:30 p.m. business hours during the repair process, including displays of popular artifacts like the “Spirit of St. Louis” airplane, the Mercury Friendship 7 and the original flyer piloted by the Wright Brothers.
Alison Mitchell, communications coordinator for the museum, said the renovation will be a complete overhaul and will prioritize accessibility to the museum.
“People really like to come here; we definitely don’t want to take away that opportunity for people,” Mitchell said. “We are able to stay open, at least partially, throughout the entire project, so that’s really a main goal of ours.”
The Smithsonian Institution requested $922.2 million from Congress for 2017, a 10 percent increase from the $840 million it received from the federal government 2016. For 2018, the Smithsonian requested $947 million in funding. Typically, two-thirds of the Smithsonian’s overall budget comes from taxpayers.
Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton told the Congressional Budget Committee in March 2016 that the Air and Space Museum alone needs $600 million over five years to repair its faulty facade and mechanical systems. Skorton told the panel he wants the federal government to pay for the entire cost of repairing the Air and Space Museum.
According to The Washington Post, Committee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) told Skorton that such an increase was “not realistic.”
“It is difficult to raise philanthropic funds for repairs and renovations,” Skorton said to Congress in March.
Skorton also said the institution will need to fund improvements to programs and exhibitions with an estimated $250 million in private donations.
Chief Museum Curator Peter Jakab said these improvements will maintain the spirit of the museum that everyone loves while allowing greater access to a wider range of audiences.
“The icons people associate with the National Air and Space Museum are as inspiring today as they were when they made history,” Jakab wrote in a statement Oct. 25. “Through stimulating new exhibition techniques and innovative digital engagement, we will tell exciting and relevant stories in ways that resonate with our modern communication-savvy world that can be readily shared with broad audiences.”
According to Smithsonian visitor statistics, 5.8 million people have visited the Air and Space Museum this year through September, with 1.2 million more people expected to visit by the end of December.
The Air and Space Museum is the most popular Smithsonian museum by 1 million visitors, followed by the National Museum of Natural History, which has attracted 4.8 million people this year.
Sean Danaek, a corporal for Allied Universal Security, one of the contracted security firms at the Air and Space Museum, said he is excited about the renovation.
“It will definitely be nice to see the new life brought into the museum,” Danaek said. “When I was a kid, I visited this place, and it hasn’t changed a lot in the 15 years since I was a kid. It will definitely be nice to see how they change the gallery and just kind of what new exhibits they might bring in here.”
Mitchell said the staff is generally looking forward to the changes that these renovations will bring to daily life.
“Everybody thinks of this as an incredible opportunity. It’s going to be a big change for the museum, so that means a lot of change for staff, too,” Mitchell said. “But everybody’s really excited about the opportunity to work on such an incredible change.”
New exhibitions are planned to open in 2021.