WASHINGTON - During the busy season of military transfers, adjusting to new communities and registering children for school, more than 2,000 museums across the nation will open their doors, free of charge, to service members and their families as a break from the summer challenges, a Defense Department official said.

From Memorial Day, May 27, through Labor Day, Sept. 2, all active duty service members, National Guardsmen and reservists and their families can take advantage of this cultural and educational opportunity in all 50 states.

"It's an exciting, inspiring, educational and economical activity for our families to enjoy this summer," said Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Launching its fourth year in a news conference today at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the 2013 Blue Star Museums Program is a collaboration among the Defense Department, Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts and the museums to give service members and their families a way to spend time together in their local museums.

"After long deployments, rigorous training schedules and very long hours, our time with our families is very limited and extremely precious to us," Hull-Ryde said. "We are so grateful [to have] these programs. This program is an investment in our families."

A record number of museums are participating this year. The program began in 2010 with free access to about 600 museums, while this year's 2,000 is a figure that's still growing, Blue Star Families and NEA officials said.

"This program is helping us make memories memories for our families," Hull-Ryde said. "But it's more than that. It is making a difference not only in the force of today, but in the force of the future."