ITHACA, N.Y.—The new director of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., hopes to expand its research efforts and use its exhibits to further public understanding of science and technology.

Cornell astronomer and astrophysicist Martin 0. Harwit last month took charge of one of the most-visited museums in the world, with an estimated 9 million visitors annually. It houses exhibits ranging from the Wright Brothers’ first aircraft to the Apollo 11 command module and rocks brought back from the moon.

“The prime thrust of the museum has been to place the displays in their historical context,” said Harwit, who succeeded acting director James Tyler. “But they also could be arranged to explain the science and technology... to show the public how things work.” Harwit would like museum exhibits to point out the social impact of aerospace technology, which he noted has brought “great benefits and great problems.” For...

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