Time and Navigation

National Air and Space Museum
Smithsonian Institution


If you want to know where you are, you need a reliable clock. This new permanent exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum explores how revolutions in timekeeping over three centuries have influenced how people find their way.

Three interactives put visitors into the role of historical navigators, where they must not only learn about different types of navigation, but put them to use.

Production Partner

Interactive Knowledge

Reviews & Comments

The interactive displays here aim to give you a tactile sense of navigation: there are touch screens on which you can steer a craft through space or learn when to apply various navigation methods to air travel. … [The] most effective interactive display may be the [one with] simple sextants pointed at … stars on the wall, which you can use to determine a star’s angle of elevation.

The New York Times

Navigate at Sea

You are a navigator aboard the Flying Cloud clipper ship and you must determine your ship’s position. You measure the altitude of a star with an actual sextant and are guided through the process of calculating your position. This experience integrates both a touch screen interface and a real sextant mounted next to the interactive.

Navigate the Skies

You are a navigator on the first flight attempt from the mainland to Hawaii in 1925. Along the way you must choose the appropriate navigation method (celestial, radio or dead reckoning) for the conditions.

Navigate in Space

You are a navigator on Earth and your mission is to get a spacecraft to Mercury. You must use gravity assist from Venus to complete the mission, you must track your spacecraft and you must maneuver your spacecraft to make course adjustments.