Pieces of one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, a mangled antenna from the top of the North Tower, a wallet containing a Sainsbury's reward card, a fire truck with its cab shorn off.

These are some of the artefacts in the National September 11 Memorial Museum, set to open in New York on 21 May.

fire truck
Remains of a New York City Fire Department Ladder Company 3 truck AFP

By turns chilling and heartbreaking, the Ground Zero museum leads people on an unsettling journey through the 9/11 terror attacks. There are scenes of horror, including videos of the skyscrapers collapsing and people falling from them, but there also are symbols of heroism, ranging from damaged fire trucks to the wristwatch of one of the airline passengers who confronted the hijackers.

Visitors enter into an airy pavilion where the rusted tops of two of the World Trade Center's trident-shaped columns shoot upward. From there, museum-goers descend stairs and ramps, passing through a dark corridor filled with the voices of people remembering the day and past the battered "survivors' staircase" which hundreds used to escape the burning towers.

At the base level, amid remnants of the skyscrapers' foundations, galleries plunge visitors into the chaos of the attacks: fragments of planes, dust-covered shoes of those who fled the skyscrapers' collapse, damaged firefighters' helmets, and the sounds of emergency radio transmissions and office workers calling loved ones.

The project was marked by construction problems, financial squabbles and disputes over the appropriate way to honour the nearly 3,000 people killed in New York, Washington and the Pennsylvania countryside.