The Apollo to the Moon exhibition at the Smithsonian. (Photo: Getty Images)
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong made history by being the first person to set foot on the moon. On the 45th anniversary of the event, while we wait for Virgin Galactic to start offering commercial flights, lunar enthusiasts can celebrate the anniversary and satisfy their inner astronaut at these earthbound space-related attractions.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Home to the world’s greatest collection of all things related to flight, you could spend days wandering the galleries. But on this anniversary, go straight to the Apollo to the Moon exhibition, which displays hundreds of actual items used in the moon launches, everything from the actual Command Module that the astronauts rode back to Earth to their space suits, toothbrushes, and even their “urine accumulator bag.” For a modern twist, follow the Smithsonian-run Apollo 11 twitter feed to track the crew’s 1969 journey to the moon as if it were being live-tweeted today.
(Photo: Corbis Images)
U.S. Space & Rocket Center
Unknown to many, this Alabama town was the birthplace of the U.S. rocket program, with ex-Nazi Wernher von Braun and his team using their V-2 know-how to design the Saturn V rockets that sent the Apollo 11 team to the moon. Nowadays the museum on the grounds of the missile development center houses hundreds of artifacts from the space programs as well as a Space Camp, in which kids ages 9-18 spend nearly a week training to be junior astronauts, participating in mission simulations, firing model rockets, and conducting low-gravity experiments. Caution, math is involved.
(Photo: David Jones/Flickr)
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Cape Canaveral, Fla.
Three … two … one … Blast off! This is the site from which Apollo 11 and every other manned space expedition launched, including all the space shuttles. Its visitor complex has expansive displays, an IMAX theater, a space shuttle simulator, an astronaut Hall of Fame and Memorial, and even a “lunch with an astronaut” program. In honor of the anniversary, be sure to visit the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which showcases the race-to-the-moon program and lets you actually touch a moon rock and stand under the 363-foot-tall Saturn V rocket, which launched the moon expeditions.
(Photo: David Jones/Flickr)
Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
New York City
Aboard and around the Intrepid aircraft carrier docked on the Hudson River, learn about the history of flight and space travel. The museum is celebrating the 45th anniversary of the moon landing with its Space & Science festival, which runs through July 20, including a forum with astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who followed Neil Armstrong onto the moon 45 years ago. And please don’t accuse Aldrin of faking the landing, because even at age 84, he may punch you in the face.
Cinder Lake Crater Fields
Near Flagstaff, Ariz.
Before their trips to the moon, Apollo astronauts trained for moonwalking and moon driving using an imitation lunar landscape created in the desert outside of Flagstaff, Ariz. Dynamite blew up craters to match the exact layout of the landing sites. Nowadays the area is used as an ATV park, so put on your spacesuit and drive out there. The Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff has exhibits related to the training and continues to be involved in planning Mars expeditions.
As people in the know will tell you, aliens and UFOs supplied key technology for the U.S. space program. The secret government research site in the Nevada desert has long been rumored to house captured alien spacecraft, cosmic weapons, and remote probes that can penetrate even the thickest tinfoil hat. Drive the nearby Extraterrestial Highway and scan the skies for alien aircraft. UFO enthusiasts can also visit the UFO Museum in the alien hotbed of Roswell, N.M.
(Photo: Pima Air & Space Museum/Facebook)
Pima Air & Space Museum
Check out more than 100 planes preserved in the dry desert air across 80 acres of southern Arizona, and wander through hangars with historical exhibits, including the Space Gallery, which tracks the race to the moon. Its monthly Night Wings event is a good way to beat the desert heat and bring the kids for some fun evening programs.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The massive annual comic book convention isn’t just about fantasy and science fiction — there’s some science facts as well: On July 24, the anniversary of Apollo 11’s return to Earth (or actually the sea), actor and space enthusiast Seth Green will moderate a NASA-hosted panel on the future of space exploration, with busy astronaut Buzz Aldrin and top space engineers and scientists.
(Photo: Alvin Trusty/Flickr)
Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
The companion site for the National Air and Space Museum, the center has two huge aircraft hangars, which hold not only thousands of air and space artifacts, but also the space shuttle Discovery, a Concorde, and an SR-71 Blackbird stealth aircraft. Tour the Human Spaceflight exhibits, including the actual quarantine trailer in which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had to stay for three days after returning from their lunar landing to make sure they weren’t infected with “moon germs.”
(Photo: Terence Faircloth/Flickr)
The first planetarium in the U.S. (opened in 1930) still wows with cosmic space shows that light up the ceiling of its two domed theaters. The Shoot for the Moon exhibition traces the history of the space program and includes the Gemini 12 space capsule and a “Moon Wall,” which displays the latest images taken from the still-flying Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The Johnson Space Center was instrumental in NASA’s manned space flights (the Houston of “Houston, we have a problem”). The sprawling complex includes tram rides past spacecraft and rockets, extensive exhibits and educational programs, and even a view into the actual historical Mission Control center that coordinated the Apollo 11 journey from launch to splashdown.