A Day at the Smithsonian
Nephews Ryan and Adam went with me to the Smithsonian Institution on The Mall in D.C. on Thursday. It’s only 30 miles from Ryan’s home so it was an easy ride. We spent 5 hours in the Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum.
Here’s Ryan, Adam, and Me with the Washington Monument in the background:
Here’s Me, Adam, and Ryan with the U.S. Capital Building behind us:
The Air and Space Museum was the big thrill, even though it’s undergoing expansion construction and half of it is closed.
The BIGGEST thrill for us in the Air and Space Museum was a ride only 3 minutes long but SO worth it ($12 each) we will definitely do it again when we visit again after the construction is completed. It had the longest line despite the fact there are two of them rides - for good reason!
It’s the 3D 360 degree Virtual Reality simulator where we wear VR goggles, you can look all around - 360 degrees up & down, left & right, and backward & forward and feels as if you’re in that place because there’s no edge to the “screen” - there doesn’t seem to be a screen at all!
You are looking through an astronaut’s face mask as you exit the Space Shuttle, space walk (you don’t control the astronaut’s movement) to the International Space Station - where two accidents occur blowing out a set of windows and a solar panel and you go all around the ISS and eventually are lifted into it through a hatch.
Here’s a video shot by Pulseworks, the maker of the moving, 360 deg. Virtual Reality Simulator. Most of the footage from the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and the video clips are from the same ISS VR video we experienced:
The YouYube video can’t show the fact that you can see more than is in the screen by simply turning your head. Looking down at Earth was the part we all felt was scary - you felt you were falling toward it, like the video in the link at about 1:40.
Here are some vidcaps of people in the ride and a 2D version of what they see as they are pitched in their seats forward, back, left, and right as you watch events unfold in 3D -turning your head all around. You can see stars, the space station, the shuttle, debris, and the Earth. You are seat-belted and most of the time you’re holding on to the bar in front of you for dear life because of the illusion of falling - you’re complete visual experience is there.
The view is awesome - the kid on the left is pointing his hand, so immersed in the Virtual Reality he doesn’t realize no one else sees his hand! The other two have the mouths hanging open in amazement.
These three are all looking in different directions - checking out the virtual scene, visible in every direction:
With the look and feel of 3D plus seat motion, the tremendous height you’re above the Earth makes you hold onto the bar in front of you for dear life - so you won’t fall toward it!
Panels explode in an accident and debris flies past you:
The VR occupants react:
Finally, the arm of a fellow astronaut reaches down to help you into the International Space Station’s hatch:
The egg-like while object far back on the right is the Cosmic Coaster - which we did next.
The Cosmic Coaster is a 7 minute ride on a 2-rail roller coaster that moves through spectacular scenery:
He’re a quick video very poorly shot from the rear seat, but it shows you what it basically is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2ia8wHSkj8
The boys didn’t get excited about it because we were in the rear seat, we had just done the spectacular 360 degree VR simulator, and we had actually done a similar thrill ride at Wisp on vacation in Western MD last year, where you go to the top of the mountain via the ski lift, then shoot down in a several minute ride on the Mountain Coaster that runs on two rails, twisting and turning and speeding. We all did the Mountain Coaster ride several times.
The only other thing we had to pay for was the IMAX Theater:
The only other thing we had to pay for was the IMAX Theater:
There were lots of “How Things Fly” and other exhibits. Here, Ryan and Adam are studying what causes lift in airplane wings. An air hose blowing air between two hanging baseballs makes them move together because the faster-moving air touching a large, curved surface area exerts less pressure on the balls than still air at the outside part of each ball:
There were lots of planes and rockets to look at including the actual Spirit of Saint Louis on which Lindhberg first flew solo across the Atlantic and a full-size model of the Apollo Lunar Module.
In the Natural History Museum, we looked at most of the exhibits focusing on Ocean, Human Origins, Mammals, and Geology.
Ryan’s taking a course in Geology this coming semester in college, so we spent a lot of time visiting the Geology exhibit. Ryan asked me about the chemical formulas often ending .5H20, etc., and I explained about hydrates making crystals where H2O molecules are needed to make the crystalline structure stable. After I answered a few more Inorganic Chemistry questions, several people began to follow us around, asking me questions about colors, crystal shapes, etc.
The thing that made the trip inexpensive - on top of the free admission to the Smithsonian and $1 per ice-cold 16.9 oz. bottles of water vendors sold outside which you can carry into the buildings - was inexpensive parking: 7 hours for $16.95 and if we arrived early or stayed late the max. was $21. There are a number of garages 0.3 to 0.5 miles from The Mall where the Smithsonian buildings are.
I used “Colonial Parking,” https://www.ecolonial.com/park-with-us/parking-locator/
To find a cheap parking garage. I chose one at 700 11th St NW because, from Ritchie Hwy near our homes, we only turn onto one road, Rt. 50, that becomes New York Avenue when you enter D.C. and from it you turn onto 11th St. just a few blocks from the garage. You can walk out of the garage onto 12th St, which runs straight to the Museum of Natural History 0.5 miles away - a 10 minute downhill walk. Also, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and Ford’s Theatre are just a couple blocks from the garage - that’ll be a future trip.
I was able to prepay online to reserve the parking space in case the garage filled up.
By 4:30 pm I was pretty worn out - my calves ached with every step the next day. We walked out of the Air & Space museum and it was beginning to rain - fortunately very lightly. Since we hadn’t eaten lunch and we’d only have had 30 minutes to check out anything else, we started walking back toward the garage, hoping to find a restaurant on the way.
Walking back was more of a challenge for me because I was tired and because we finished at the Air and Space Museum which is a quarter of a mile from where 12th St. borders The Mall - then 1/2 mile uphill to the garage.
A few blocks from the garage on 12th St, we happened on a restaurant and, being too tired to checkout the side streets we went in. It turned out to be a historically famous D.C. burger joint, “Olley’s Trolley,” which is laid out like a 1940’s diner with Jazz music playing.
For $45 (cash - no credit cards) we had huge, 8 oz. burgers or beef BBQ sandwiches plus superb milkshakes made with real high-quality ice cream - Adam’s Strawberry/Vanilla/Oreo shake had tasty chunks of strawberry in it.
We made it back to the car and our 40 minute ride home took 80 minutes because of severe rush hour traffic but, at least, after we turned off 11th St we only had to travel that one road for 20+ miles and it took us to within several miles of Ryan’s home.