With the country’s long history involving flight and space travel, it’s no wonder the US is home to some of the world’s best space museums.
And now with the SpaceX program, rovers Curiosity and Perseverance sending in new information about Mars every day, and the James Webb Space Telescope taking the clearest images possible of our universe, interest in outer space is alive and well.
Here is a list of the best space museums in the US for the space nerds out there, young and old.
The Best Space Museums in the US
Note that most, if not all, space museums in this list are aviation museums, too. Sky first before space, right?
This article focuses more on the “space” part of “aerospace,” including the exhibits, attractions, and things to do.
1. Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (Merritt Island, Florida)
Known as: The place to watch rockets being launched
Let’s start with probably the coolest space museum in the country. That’s because this is the place to be for watching rocket launches, and has been for the past 50 years.
In fact, it’s one of our picks for the best museums in Florida.
The visitor complex is divided into Mission Zones, each focusing on a key period or area of space travel.
The most popular Mission Zone is the Shuttle: A Ship Like No Other, featuring Space Shuttle Atlantis, one of only three space-flown shuttles displayed in the country.
Kids will have fun playing with astronaut training simulators, exploring life on board the International Space Station, experiencing a space shuttle’s ascent into orbit, and many more.
Other popular Mission Zones include Race to the Moon featuring the massive Saturn V, the Heroes and Legends exhibit featuring the US Astronaut Hall of Fame, and the Rocket Garden, an outdoor display of historic rockets, including those from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs.
Unique experiences here (for additional fees) include the Astronaut Training Experience (ATX), where you can train like you’re one of the next astronauts off to Mars; the Chat With An Astronaut experience, where the Astronaut of the Day sits down with a small group and answers questions while enjoying some snacks; and the Behind the Gates Tours, where you can access some restricted areas, including historic launch sites and operational spaceflight facilities.
- Address: Space Commerce Way, Merritt Island, FL 32953 | 855-433-4210
- Tickets: One-day passes start at $75 per head for adults 12 years old and above; discounts available for children 3 to 11, seniors, and military; children 2 and below get in for free; astronaut chats, special interest tours, and training experiences not included
- Things to do nearby: The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a 140,000-acre nature sanctuary established to protect wild birds. Manatee Sanctuary Park on the Banana River is another lovely place to hang out, with a chance of seeing manatees.
2. Space Center Houston (Houston, Texas)
Known as: The home of Mission Control and the astronaut corps
When Apollo 13’s Jim Lovell said “Houston, we’ve had a problem,” he was talking to Mission Control in the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.
Space Center Houston is the official visitor center for the Johnson Space Center.
The future of spaceflight is highlighted in the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster exhibit as a shining example of reusable space technology.
Another aspect of the future of spaceflight is being more inclusive. Check out the Artemis exhibit, highlighting NASA’s latest program to bring humans back to the moon, placing the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.
A classic experience is to go on the NASA Tram Tour and visit the historic Apollo Mission Control Center, Rocket Park, and the Astronaut Training Facility.
Other popular exhibits include Mission: Mars (get into a simulated Orion capsule and touch a real Mars rock), Astronaut Gallery (the world’s largest collection of spacesuits), and Starship Gallery (Apollo 17 Command Module, lunar samples vault with the lunar touchstone, Skylab training module).
Kids would love to chat with an astronaut, so time your visit to catch Astronaut Mission Memories at the Space Center Theater (included with general admission), or have Breakfast/Lunch with an Astronaut, a more intimate experience plus a catered meal (charged separately).
Don’t miss the Independence Plaza exhibit, enter the world’s only shuttle replica Independence mounted on top of the original NASA 905 shuttle carrier aircraft.
- Address: 1601 E NASA Pkwy, Houston, TX 77058 | 281-244-2100
- Tickets: $29.95 per head for adults 12 and above; discounts for children 4 to 11 and seniors; children 3 and below get in free; tickets for some tours and experiences not included
- Things to do nearby: Kemah Boardwalk is a popular entertainment and dining area where you can unwind after your space museum visit. If outdoor activities are your thing, Clear Lake is a nearby fishing and watersports destination.
3. U.S. Space & Rocket Center (Huntsville, Alabama)
Known as: The biggest space museum in the US and the home of Space Camp
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is the official visitor center for the Marshall Space Flight Center, which is an icon in Huntsville.
In fact, Huntsville, Alabama is known as “Rocket City” because this is where the rockets for the Apollo program were developed. Today, this is where the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for Artemis is currently being constructed.
Huntsville is also where students of all ages converge for Space Camp, a five-day program that includes flight and mission simulators, lectures, experiments, and many other educational activities to help people learn about space exploration.
They have one of the largest rocket collections in the world, showcased in Rocket Park, Shuttle Park, and the Apollo Courtyard. The various missiles and rockets tell a chronological story of America’s space program.
Perhaps the most famous exhibit in this museum is the Davidson Center for Space Exploration featuring an authentic Saturn V rocket, a heavy-lift launch vehicle used for nine crewed flights to the moon and to launch the first American space station Skylab.
If you’re curious about how it actually feels up there, try out one of their simulators, such as the Moon Shot (4Gs of force on launch plus a few seconds of weightlessness), the HyperShip (5 minutes of a multi-sensory experience; charged separately), or the Kids Cosmos Energy Depletion Zone (tamer version, good for kids).
When the kids (or you) need a little downtime, catch a show at the INTUITIVE Planetarium (charged separately).
- Address: 1 Tranquility Base, Huntsville, AL 35805 | 800-637-7223
- Tickets: $30 per head for adults 13 and above; discounts for children 5 to 12; children 4 and below get in free; tickets for shows and experiences not included
- Things to do nearby: The beautiful Huntsville Botanical Garden is a 5-minute drive east, featuring Purdy Butterfly House, Damson Aquatic Garden, Garden Railway, and many other gorgeous gardens.
4. Virginia Air & Space Center (Hampton, Virginia)
Known as: The birthplace of the American human space program
The Virginia Air & Space Center is the official visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center.
Movie buffs likely know the Langley Research Center as the setting for the movie Hidden Figures, which is about the then-unknown role of female mathematicians behind the first American orbital spaceflight.
The VASC, meanwhile, has several interactive exhibits that space geeks will, well, geek out on.
The Spacecraft Gallery showcases historic spacecraft, including the original Apollo 12 command module (second to land on the moon), the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module Simulator (the original trainer used in the 1960s to train the Apollo astronauts), and a replica of the Viking Lander (the first spacecraft to land successfully on Mars and took the first color photograph of Mars).
In the Space Explorer Gallery, guests can simulate landing on the moon, exploring the surface of Mars, and building their own solar system.
Don’t miss the moon rock from the Apollo 17 mission as well as a real Mars meteorite.
- Address: 600 Settlers Landing Rd. Hampton, VA 23669 | 757-727-0900
- Tickets: $22.50 per head for adults 19 and above; discounts for children 3 to 18, seniors, and active duty military; children 2 and below get in free; tickets for shows and experiences not included
- Things to do nearby: For 400 years, Hampton has been known as the city “First from the Sea, First to the Stars,” and you can learn more about this legacy in the Hampton History Museum a block away. You can enjoy the “sea” part by visiting Fort Monroe National Monument and Outlook Beach, both 10 minutes away.
5a. Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum (Washington, DC)
Note: This museum is temporarily closed for renovations until Fall 2022.
Known as: The world’s most visited space museum
Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has been consistently hailed as one of the best space museums in the US and worldwide.
With more than 60,000 objects on display, it’s no wonder this is also among the most visited museums in the country.
Perhaps the most popular exhibition here is the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, displaying the original Apollo 11 command module, a model of the Viking Mars Lander, and countless other spacecraft and aircraft in history.
Once renovations are done, visitors can look forward to visiting the Destination Moon exhibit, with artifacts from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, lunar landers and rovers, and the actual spacesuits worn by Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong.
Visitors can also look forward to the return of flight and space simulators, the reopening of the IMAX theater, and the revamping of the Planetarium to be a fully digital experience.
- Address: 600 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20560 | 202-633-2214
- Tickets: Free
- Things to do nearby: The National Air and Space Museum is right on the National Mall, where there are countless museums, memorials, and gardens to explore. Read more in our article listing the best free things to do in Washington, DC.
5b. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (Chantilly, Virginia)
Known as: The home of Space Shuttle Discovery
If you’re wondering why this space museum shares a place with the National Air and Space Museum, it’s because the Udvar-Hazy Center is its annex.
It consists of two massive hangars, containing spacecraft and aircraft that are too large to display in the NASM.
The star exhibit in this museum is Space Shuttle Discovery, one of the orbiters from NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. In over 27 years, it has launched and landed 39 times, more than any other spacecraft to date.
A unique activity here is watching specialists at the restoration hangar work on aircraft and spacecraft to preserve them.
There’s also an observation tower on the museum grounds, from where visitors can watch planes landing and departing at nearby Dulles International Airport.
- Address: 14390 Air and Space Museum Pkwy, Chantilly, VA 20151 | 703-572-4118
- Tickets: Free
- Things to do nearby: Aside from the Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly is known for the Sully Plantation, a nationally registered historic place.
6. Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (New York City, New York)
Known as: A military, maritime, and space museum in one, all on an aircraft carrier
The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is one of the most unique museums you can visit. This hub for historic aircraft, maritime vessels, and space artifacts is located on the USS Intrepid, an aircraft carrier saved from destruction in 1978.
The Intrepid is berthed on the Hudson River and is a prominent landmark in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in Manhattan.
The centerpiece of the “Space” part of “Sea, Air, and Space Museum” is the Space Shuttle Enterprise located in the Space Shuttle Pavilion. Several artifacts, photographs, audio, video, and other remnants of the space shuttle era.
Also featured here is a space-flown Soyuz TMA-6 launched from the Baikonaur Cosmodrome in Southern Kazakhstan.
Learn more about the history and contributions of the Space Shuttle program by watching Journey to Space (charged separately).
- Address: Pier 86, W 46th St, New York, NY 10036 | 212-245-0072
- Tickets: $33 per head for adults 13 and above; discounts for children 5 to 12, seniors, college students, and New York City residents; children 4 and below, military, and veterans get in free; tickets for tours, shows, and experiences not included
- Things to do nearby: The Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood is famous for its Off-Broadway theaters and trendy restaurants. Central Park is close by, where you’ll never run out of things to do.
7. San Diego Air & Space Museum (San Diego, California)
Known as: Home to California’s official moon rocks
The San Diego Air & Space Museum (SDASM) is home to several aviation and space artifacts from all over the world.
The Modern Jet & Space Age Gallery is dedicated to Wally Schirra, the only astronaut to fly in all three of the early US crewed spaceflight programs (Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo). He donated many items from his space travels to the SDASM.
Famous space artifacts in the SDASM include the original Apollo 9 command module, Wally Schirra’s spacesuit, and California’s official moon rocks: lunar sample displays from Apollo 11 and goodwill moon rocks from Apollo 17.
- Address: 2001 Pan American Plaza, San Diego, CA 92101 | 619-234-8291
- Tickets: $23 per head for adults 12 and above; discounts for children 3 to 11, seniors, students, and retired military; children 4 and below, military, and veterans get in free; tickets for shows and experiences not included
- Things to do nearby: SDASM is within Balboa Park, a vast city park where there’s something for everyone. Kids will love the San Diego Zoo, one of our picks for the best zoos in the US.
8. Cosmosphere Science Education Center & Space Museum (Hutchinson, Kansas)
Known as: The space museum with the largest collection of Soviet/Russian space artifacts outside of Moscow
Cosmosphere International Science Education Center & Space Museum (or simply the Cosmosphere) is unique among the other museums on this list in that they not only have American spacecraft but also spacecraft from the Soviet Union during the time of the space race.
So not only do they have the Liberty Bell 7 (the second manned spacecraft launched by the US) on display, but they also have a flight-ready backup of Sputnik 1 (the first artificial Earth satellite launched by the Soviet Union and the herald of the Space Age).
Kids will enjoy participating in the interactive science shows at Dr. Goddard’s Lab and watching 3D shows at the Justice Planetarium.
- Address: 1100 N Plum St, Hutchinson, KS 67501 | 800-397-0330
- Tickets: All-access mission pass: $26.50 per head for adults 13 and above; discounts for children 4 to 12, seniors, and military; children 3 and below get in free
- Things to do nearby: From outer space, explore the subterranean world through Strataca, an underground salt mine. Or if you prefer aboveground activities, Sand Hills State Park is a solid hiking and horseback riding destination. For more city-type activities, Wichita is around an hour’s drive via KS-96.
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Go on a Trip to One of These Space Museums Soon!
Man has always been fascinated with the sky and how to reach it, and with every advancement in the space program, more and more space geeks are born every minute.
I hope my list of best space museums helps you plan your next trip to get your outer space fix!
Other noteworthy museums to visit
If you’re something of a museum geek, here are other museums you can plan to visit and add to your checklist: