What to see at the Museum of Flight in Seattle

I recently had a chance to visit the Museum of Flight in Seattle for the first time – long overdue, in fact, since we moved out to the area more than 18 months ago. It was an impressive place with some great exhibits. In particular, we spent most of the time in the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery, although there was much more to see.

This also comes on the heels of my recent trip to the Henry Crown Space Center at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Soyuz (Russian) descent module
Soyuz (Russian) descent module

One highlight was an actual module from a Soyuz spacecraft. Soyuz was the human spaceflight program in the Soviet Union (and continues today in Russia), and the Soyuz rocket and spacecraft were integral parts of this program. Interestingly, the Soyuz rocket is the most reliable launch vehicle, as well as the most frequently used launch vehicle, in the world. The first Soyuz manned capsule was used in 1967, and Soyuz flights have taken place more than 1,700 times since then, in both manned and unmanned missions.

Life sized model of the Hubble telescope
The Hubble telescope

The exhibit also had some life-size models of things like the Hubble telescope and even a life-size space shuttle that you can climb aboard. Pictures (such as the Hubble, above) obviously don’t do the size of these things justice, although the relatively small floating astronaut next to the telescope helps provide a sense of scale.

The Hubble telescope is of course extremely well known. It was launched into low earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation today – 30 years later! – and it’s produced countless amazing images of the cosmos.

One thing that I didn’t know was that the Hubble is expected to last until 2030, or perhaps as late as 2040, and that its successor is the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to be launched in 2021 – from an Ariane 5 rocket. What a time to be alive!

Museum display titled Rocket Science 101
Rocket Science 101

The space gallery also had a variety of other exhibits, including some interesting info about how rockets work, differences between solid and liquid fuel rockets, and displays related to the world’s largest rockets and orbits. I’m no expert on any of this, and I really enjoyed this “Rocket Science 101.”

I only included a handful of pictures here, but for more, you can check out my Instagram.

The Museum of Flight really has a lot of other exhibits to see as well; in fact, it’s primarily dedicated to aviation and airplanes (e.g. from the early days of flight and the World War I and II era), with only a smaller space dedicated to spacecraft and rocketry. But it’s absolutely worth a visit, whether you live in Seattle or next time you’re visiting.

What to see at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago

When I was visiting family in Chicago for the holidays, I got a chance to check out the Museum of Science and Industry (“MSI”) and in particular, the Henry Crown Space Center. I was born and raised in Chicago and I’ve been to MSI many times when I was younger, but it’s been a few years now. They’ve remodeled and changed exhibits countless times, and I can’t remember having seen the space center before.

Aurora 7 capsule on display from Project Mercury
Aurora 7 capsule (Project Mercury)

Needless to say, it was awesome! There are areas dedicated to each of the major US human spaceflight programs, explaining their purpose. These programs and their stated goals include:

  • Project Mercury (to orbit a manned spacecraft around earth, to investigate humans’ ability to function in space, and to recover both person and spacecraft successfully),
  • Project Gemini (to rendezvous and dock two spacecraft), and
  • Project Apollo (to land men on the moon and return them safely to earth).
Apollo 8 module on display
Apollo 8 module

As pictured here, the exhibit included an actual manned capsule from Mercury and an actual module from Apollo. These were on loan to MSI from the National Air and Space Museum. There’s also a rock on display from the lunar surface. It’s really impressive to see these things in person; mind-blowing when you stop to think about it.

If you want to see more photos, check out my instagram, but I wanted to at least share some highlights from the exhibit on the blog as well. Chicago is renowned for its world-class museums, and MSI doesn’t disappoint.

Apollo lunar landing display
Apollo lunar landing

The space center also had some areas dedicated to modern and future space missions, including info about SpaceX (see picture below), Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and other private companies, as well as current NASA projects and plans.

Display model of SpaceX Falcon 9
From the past to the future of spaceflight

I’m enjoying launching model rockets and getting into high power rocketry, but it’s pretty inspiring to see a huge exhibit like this. It gives me motivation to set more rocket-related goals (and crush them) in 2020!