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'Twas three days before opening...

A poetic preview of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

December 12, 2003

'Twas three days before opening, when all through the hangar, not a docent was stirring, not even a curator. The aircraft were hung from the ceiling with care, in prep for the visitors who would soon all be there.

The public was eager to be let through the doors, with visions of artifacts spanning three floors. And the press let in early, and I along with them, to write our reviews — hence this short poem.

Viewed from the top of a spiral staircase, the Air France Concorde is in the foreground, with the Boeing 307 Stratoliner and Boeing 367 "Dash 80" in the background. (collectSPACE)

So in through the entrance I walked with a patter, where there in the distance emerged my subject matter. Away to the floor I flew like a flash, past the stealth Blackbird and the chrome silver "Dash" (80).

Past the sonic Concorde and the bomber Enola Gay, I continued on course despite the aircraft on the way. When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a real NASA shuttle with deployed landing gear.

Space Shuttle Enterprise: Over the next few months, Enterprise will undergo a restoration effort to return her to the condition she was in when she first arrived at the Smithsonian in 1983. The missing panels from the wing leading edge were removed as part of the Columbia accident investigation. (collectSPACE)

With its gray stubby nose, and black outlined "eyes", I knew in a moment it must be Enterprise. More than the ALT glider, a space fan couldn't ask, but still to be seen 60 more space artifacts!

Mercury Capsule 15B: Titled Freedom 7 II by Alan Shepard, this is the only Mercury capsule that still has its retro-package intact. Shepard was to have rode this craft on the orbital mission Mercury-Atlas 10 but the decision was made to proceed to the Gemini Program instead. (collectSPACE)

Now, Vega! now, Spacelab, now, Big Joe and Echo! On to Freedom 7 II, Gemini 7, and Apollo! To the top of the skywalk! to the top of the hall! With suspended planes hanging, I could still see them all!

As aircraft that before the Air and Space fly, hang from the rafters, as if mounted to the sky. So up to house-top, the media they flew, With the hangar half full, it was still quite the view.

And then in a twinkling, I spied on the ground, the Moon germ container in which astronauts were impound, So I drew in my camera, and turned right around, Down the black spiral staircase I came with a bound.

Mobile Quarantine Facility: This modifled Airstream trailer was home to both the Apollo 11 (Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins) and Apollo 12 (Conrad, Bean, Gordon) crews after their return from the Moon to protect the unlikely spread of any lunar-based contagions. (cS)

It was covered with metal, with windows to peer, I paused for a moment, where Nixon was here; A trio of chairs were just right inside, where Armstrong and Aldrin and Collins had reside.

This place — how it marveled! its sights all so varied! From the suit Irwin wore, to the tools that he carried! From the mothership model of the "Encounter, Third Kind" to rockets and missiles, Cruise and Sidewind(er).

Saturn IB H-1 Rocket Engines: A cluster of H-1 engines powered the first stage of the Saturn I and Saturn IB rockets. (collectSPACE)

There were engines from Redstone and Titan IIIC, from Saturn H-1 to Jupiter S-3. And there in the corner was an Atlas Launch Console, dare I press a few buttons and light up the whole hall!

But like all good things this tour had to end, no time for the tower named for Engen. Nor would I watch a film in IMAX or ride the space sim with its bumps and impacts.

View from outside: The entrance, the Engen observation tower and theater at the Udvar-Hazy Center. (Mark Avino/Smithsonian)

Instead I would pass the lone Stratoliner, the Junkers Ju, and the J-3 Cub Piper. I would soon bid farewell to all of this splendor, once past the food court and the souvenir vendor.

Alas I arrived at the place where I entered, briefly I glanced at the orbiter still centered. I then spoke to myself, no I wasn't half crazy, what a wonderful place this new Udvar-Hazy!

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy (OOD-var HAH-zee) Center celebrates its public grand opening on December 15. The Center is located at Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia.

For more information, including hours and directions, see the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center website.

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SR-71 Blackbird with Space Shuttle Enterprise in the background.

Gemini VII.

James Irwin's lunar spacesuit, helmet and gloves.

Vega Solar System Probe and Landing Apparatus.

Space Shuttle Enterprise.

Spacelab Module.

Apollo Boilerplate Command Module.

Mercury "Big Joe."

Boeing B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay"