Just a half mile from the Temple of Tolerance is a more well-known tourist spot in Wapakoneta, Ohio, the Armstrong Air and Space Museum. While the museum is named after Neil Armstrong, the museum is more than just a collection of his artifacts (although there are a lot of those as well). The goal is to tell the whole story of the Space Race, and in particular the Ohio connections to it.
The first thing I noticed about the museum is its location. When you see pictures of it from the outside, it looks like this large and imposing building off in the country surrounded by rolling hills. In actuality, it’s kind of hidden among a cornucopia of fast food restaurants and big box stores.
The exhibits actually begin outside with the highlight being one of the experimental planes flown by Armstrong that was considered for use in the space program. Most of the rest of the outside areas were under construction, but there were a few other models of spacecraft, signs, and memorials scattered around the yard.
Going inside, you can’t help but notice the unique shape and construction of the museum. The big ball on top is the Planetarium (because you can’t have a space museum without one). Most of the museum is underground, hidden by the mounds you see from the outside. The main building material used in the construction was concrete (Thanks Brutalism!). This kind of gives a warehouse-like feel and is very prone to echoes.
The first part of the museum is split into several small sections that kind of merge into each other, making a walking timeline of space travel and the space race (there is a surprising amount of Cosmonaut related memorabilia here). Along the way, stories and artifacts from Armstrong’s life are mixed in. The most striking display is of an Aeronca Champion airplane that Armstrong learned to fly in.
The day before I wrote this post, John Glenn passed away. There is a small section of the Armstrong Museum dedicated to John Glenn, including this life-size painting.
Once the timeline gets to the Apollo missions, you ascend a long, dark ramp to get to the “treasures” of the museum: Neil Armstrong’s suit he wore when he walked on the moon…
…and the obligatory Moon rock display.
After this room, you are forced to enter “The Infinity Room” which is the most 1970s thing I have ever experienced.
So, you’re on a raised walkway, surrounded on all sides by mirrors. It is a little bit disconcerting at first. It definitely triggered my fear of heights. After a few seconds, once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, and I could start to make out the various mirrored surfaces, I saw we were only about 3-4 feet up, and I managed my time in this room fine.
What is its purpose? Besides a kind of cheesy special effect, it is the waiting area for the Astro Theater / Planetarium (aka the giant ball you see from the outside). On weekends and special days, they show Planetarium shows than envelop the whole ceiling. Today we got to see a biography film about Armstrong on a section of the screen about the size of a large TV. It was an interesting film, however, and well worth the wait.
Once the film was finished, we exited to the right hand side of the museum. Along the back wall is a collection of Neil Armstrong inspired art made throughout the years.
The rest of the floor is dedicated to the “Modern Space Gallery”. It feels kind of odd to be in a Neil Armstrong museum, and have nearly half the floor space not mention him at all. However, after he left the space program, he lived a mostly quiet and private life. There is little to no mention as to what he did with the rest of his life.
There are interactives largely aimed at kids, and a couple simulators for the rest of us. There are also several interesting displays related to construction of the Space Shuttles and items that we use today that came from the space program.
The second part of the museum is quite a bit smaller than the first half, and doesn’t contain nearly as much information. It is a more interactive section, especially good if you have kids with you. I have to admit that we kind of breezed through this part of the museum. I will also say that they have a really solid gift shop.
Overall the Armstrong Museum was kind of a mixed bag. The first historical section was interesting, and had some great artifacts. I don’t feel like I really learned a whole lot more about the space program, or Armstrong. The port-movie part of the museum wasn’t made for me. I get that, but it was a bit of a letdown. Overall, we spent about 2 hours here, your mileage may vary. Without the movie mid-tour we might have been done in just over 1 hour.
If you’d like more information about the museum, visit their website: Armstrong Museum
If you’d like to see more pictures from the museum, please check out my Flickr album