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National Air and Space Museum to partially reopen with 8 overhauled exhibitions

Pedro Szekely / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Forrest Brown, CNN

(CNN) - Attention air and space fans traveling to DC: Your wait will soon be over.

From historic early flight to futuristic planet exploration, the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington will be opening up eight overhauled exhibitions on Friday, October 14.

And if you want to be one of the first people to visit, be ready to move fast.

Timed-entry passes will be required, and they become available online starting Wednesday, September 14, according to a news release from the Smithsonian. Entry will be free.

About half of the flagship building will be reopening. Along with the eight updated exhibits, the planetarium, museum store and Mars Café will open, the release said.

The project started with the first gallery closures in late 2018, a museum representative told CNN Travel. Parts of the museum remained open to the public during the project until April 2022 when it closed entirely to finish the new west end galleries. The seven-year project is expected to cost around $1 billion overall, the Smithsonian representative said.

The entire renovation "includes redesigning all 23 exhibitions and presentation spaces, complete refacing of the exterior cladding" and other improvements, according to the news release.

"This is one of the most exciting times in the National Air and Space Museum's history," said Chris Browne, the John and Adrienne Mars director of the museum, in another Smithsonian news release.

"When we open the first reimagined galleries, we hope all visitors are inspired by artifacts on display for the first time, favorite icons of aerospace presented in new ways and diverse storytelling."

Below is a Q&A on how this will work (all information provided by the Smithsonian):

What's the timing on this?

The link to reserve a time will go live at noon Wednesday. You'll be able to find it on the museum's website (the link is set to be released that day).

The September 14 release will allow for people to get passes from October 14 to November 30. Then starting October 28, people may sign up for passes from December 1 to January 14. There will be two additional releases on December 16 and January 27.

Are only advance tickets available?

No. Along with the advance ticket releases, a limited number of same-day passes will be released each day at 8:30 a.m. ET beginning October 14.

"An individual will be able to reserve up to six passes per day for a specific entry time," the news release said. "Each visitor must have a pass, regardless of age. To enter the museums, visitors can show their digital timed-entry pass on their mobile device or a copy of their timed-entry pass printed at home."

What's in those 8 galleries?

The Smithsonian told CNN Travel that some of the most anticipated highlights include the "Destination Moon" exhibition, which will feature the Apollo 11 Command Module alongside Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 spacesuit. It will also feature an F-1 engine and Alan Shepard's Mercury spacesuit and Mercury Freedom 7 capsule.

The "Nation of Speed" exhibition is new to the museum and will include air and space artifacts and loaned artifacts such as Mario Andretti's Indy 500 winning race car and Evel Knievel's motorcycle.

Here's more on the eight spaces:

"America by Air": This exhibit reviews the history of US air transportation, and among the new displays will be a 1920s agricultural crop duster.

"Destination Moon": The museum promises a "blockbuster" display building on its collection of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo artifacts.

"Early Flight": This covers the period from the first flights of the Wright brothers in 1903 to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, when aviation was still novel and exciting.

"Kenneth C. Griffin Exploring the Planets Gallery": Learn how we're exploring our fellow planets (and their intriguing moons) in the solar system here.

"Nation of Speed": This exhibit will be a quick course on our obsession to be the fastest, not just in air and space but land and sea as well.

"One World Connected": Here, you'll learn how aviation, space flight and satellites truly made us "one world."

"Thomas W. Haas We All Fly": This gallery "will explore the many facets of general aviation, from sport to business."

"Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Aerial Age": Take a deep dive into the world of Wilbur and Orville Wright and their revolutionary invention.

All other galleries will remain closed, the museum's website says.

How do I get there?

The museum is at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue SW on the National Mall. If you drive there, several commercial lots are walking distance away. You can use ParkWhiz to reserve a spot.

The closest Metrorail stop is at L'Enfant Plaza. Nearby Metrobus stops are on Independence Avenue SW and along 7th Street SW. Click here to learn more about public transit options.

Do I have another aviation museum option in the area?

Yes you do. If your DC trip is before October 14 or you just can't secure a timed-entry pass online, the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, near Washington Dulles International Airport, is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. except Christmas Day. Admission is free, but there is a $15 fee for parking.

It displays thousands artifacts, including the Space Shuttle Discovery and a Concorde -- more than enough to scratch your aviation itch.

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