The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum facilities are temporarily closed as a public health precaution. But thanks to the internet, the museum continues its mission to commemorate, educate and inspire. In fact, National Air and Space Museum has increased its online programming.
Normally the museum, the largest of the Smithsonian’s 19, operates two locations. The museum in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is in Chantilly, Virginia, near Washington Dulles International Airport. Both facilities, along with all Smithsonian museums, are temporarily closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Mitchell, the museum’s “STEM in 30” program is very popular. STEM in 30” is an Emmy-nominated program for middle school students produced by the museum. Museum educators focus on different topics and share experiences with kids they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to like going on board an aircraft carrier or exploring career paths in aviation and space.
The overall goal of the online resources is to reach people where they are. “Especially while our buildings are closed during the pandemic, we wanted to provide a place with curated resources where people could experience parts of the museum without leaving their homes,” Mitchell said. “These online resources are always available for those that can’t physically come to the museum, but we’ve ramped up our programming during the closure to provide the public with online live and recorded programming this past year.”
Since the pandemic, museum employees have thought a lot about how the museum can provide resources and content that support families during this time — whether they’re doing virtual learning or just trying to entertain their kids.
“As a result, we started doing live chats, during which families could tune in and get their questions on specific topics answered in real time,” Mitchell said. “When we saw how engaged our audience was in this, we increased the number of live chats we did, producing one a week from March through the fall. We continue to do at least one or two a month.”
Additionally, for the virtual family days, the museum adapted its GooseChase scavenger hunts, which used to run in the museum, into a virtual scavenger hunt families could do from their homes. After receiving great feedback on its Mars Day scavenger hunt, the museum has offered a GooseChase scavenger hunt at each of its Soar Together family events.