An English science nerd named James Smithson who never came to the US, wrote a draft of his Last Will and Testament in 1826 in London, only three years before he died. The will left his estate which he had inherited to his nephew, and stated that if his nephew died without an heir, the money would go "to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." After his nephew died without an heir, Smithson's estate did come to the United States and a debate began about what this new institution would be. The original Smithsonian building, affectionately known as "the castle" is where it all began. Exhibits quickly outgrew this original space and today it functions as a visitors' center with sample exhibits from all the nineteen museums and galleries that have branched out from this original funding gift. Shows from the Smithsonian channel played on a large TV screen, reminding us of how much we can learn from the Smithsonian even if we never set foot in Washington.
Nearby we went to the National Air and Space Museum. After we have spent so much time visiting NASA facilities, especially in Florida, many of the exhibits of rockets and space craft were not as impressive as they were last time we were here. They had not changed; we had. The Hubble telescope mockup did impress and reminded us of how much we have learned about the universe since the last time we were here. The exhibit which showed the huge piece that the astronauts swapped out when the telescope could not focus was amazing to think about. Some of the historic aircraft had been moved into new digs and were displayed in a much more interesting way than we remembered. We were surprised to see how many French aviation pioneers gave the Wright Brothers a run for their money. The spy planes which flew over Russia when we were kids madly shooting surveillance photos on film and tossing out the film reels attached to parachutes were mind boggling. We did not spend as much time here as we expected because many of the exhibits were closed for refurbishment. We're glad they are taking good care of all these priceless items, but they could have waited until after we saw them! We've been pleased with the quality of lunches we've had in the museums here the last few days, but $32 for two sandwiches and two bananas without even water to drink was a bit breathtaking.
It was a nice day and we needed time outside, so we went to the United States Botanic Garden, which was established by Congress in 1820 long after George Washington suggested it. Botanic garden lovers would recognize the layout of greenhouses with various climates such as Mediterranean, tropical, desert, etc. Outside tulips and trees are blooming and I'm getting inspired to go home and plant something.