By Kouichi Shirayanagi
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum late on Friday kicks off its 40th anniversary festivities with a first-ever overnight celebration, long enough for the International Space Station to orbit the Earth nearly eight times.
The festival at the world's largest publicly displayed collection of historic aircraft and spacecraft will also officially open the newly renovated "Milestones of Flight" hall.
It houses the Apollo 11 command module Columbia, which achieved President John F. Kennedy's goal of delivering a crew to the moon. The Bell X-1 that Chuck Yeager flew faster than the speed of sound and the Mercury capsule Friendship 7 flown by John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, are also on view.
The event will include members of the Wright Brothers family and a 12-hour overnight film festival.
"This is the Mecca of space exploration. You can see both sides of space exploration here, including the Russian side," said Max Kaiserman, 28, of Philadelphia.
The museum includes a model of the Soviet Union's Vostok 3KA capsule, which transported Yuri Gagarin into space.
The museum also houses the original model of the star ship Enterprise, from the hit 1960s television show, Star Trek.
The museum's main site and the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, outside Washington, attract 8.5 million visitors annually. Spokeswoman Alison Mitchell said it is the most visited museum in the United States.
(Reporting by Kouichi Shirayanagi, Editing by Richard Cowan and Dan Grebler)