On July 20th, 1969, our nation was united in at least one respect: Folks across the land tuned in their TVs to see NASA astronaut Neil A. Armstrong bravely step forth from the Lunar Module “Eagle” onto the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility, becoming the first person to walk on the Moon. And with undivided attention they listened to him as he spoke those memorable words “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” the echoes of which we still hear and feel today.
For though interest in Moon exploration waned after the Apollo program, it’s now having a resurgence at home and abroad. The news media is even heralding a new space race in which the Moon figures as a stepping stone to Mars, a foothold, if you will, for humans to become a two-planet species.
Thanks to NASA Apollo 11 and its astronauts, Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, we all have much to celebrate then on the 49th anniversary of the first walk on the Moon.
So check out our guide to some celestial ways to do so in the the following cities where they know a thing or two about space exploration.
Space Center Houston
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed,” said Armstrong as the lunar module touched down on the Moon with only 30 seconds of descent fuel left. “Roger Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue – we’re breathing again. Thanks a lot,” responded Charlie Duke, the capsule communicator, from the NASA Mission Control Center in Houston.
Houston has much to rejoice about on each anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing as it’s the home of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. This is where Mission Control monitored all the Apollo space flights, taking the reigns from the Launch Control Center at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral soon after liftoff.
When you visit Space Center Houston, which is the Official Visitor Center of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, you can see the control center where everyone held their breath as they waited, along with the rest of the world, for the Eagle to land on that historic day in July of ’69. While the NASA Tram Tour lets you see this nerve center from the visitor viewing room, the Level 9 Tour lets you enter it.
Other recommended activities at the Space Center Houston include Lunch with an Astronaut, Meet an Astronaut Friday, and the Starship Gallery.
Visiting Space Center Houston, which is a leading science and space exploration hub and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is a good way to gain some perspective on the past, present, and future of the NASA space program.
Space Center Houston is open daily, and general admission, which includes a tram tour, is about $30 for an adult and $25 for a child, but discounts are available. The Level 9 Tour, which gives you a more intimate look at this amazing place, is much more expensive.
Burke Baker Planetarium
Do you want to explore massive, mysterious black holes in outer space? Want to tour the universe with Tom Hanks? Or go on a realistic voyage to the Moon narrated by the late great newscaster Walter Cronkite? Then visit the Burke Baker Planetarium at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
For this anniversary of the Apollo 11 moonwalk, Burke Baker has created a new show called “Future Moon” that honors the Apollo 11 astronauts and “…the children of today that may return there by 2020.” This show lets you join these astronauts in their trip to the Moon as you listen to narration by Walter Cronkite.
When you hop aboard the Burke Baker, you’re in for an exciting journey through the cosmos, where you can explore many planets, asteroid fields, solar systems, and galaxies. Notably, its high-resolution video technology is so good that NASA Space Shuttle astronauts use it in training to help them learn how to identify starfields.
Burke Baker is open daily, and each show is about $9 per person.
The Griffith Observatory, which is located on the southern slope of Mount Hollywood in Griffith Park at an elevation of 1,134 feet above sea level, is one of the best spots in L.A. to see the sunset and the moonrise.
With its white, art deco façade and three-dome roof, the Griffith looks like it’s right out of a space city. Arrive just before sunset; enjoy the golden hour out on a terrace; linger awhile over the dreamy L.A. lights; and, then zip over to the Zeiss telescope array inside for a good long look at the Moon. You’ll have plenty of company as there’s likely to be a line of people as long as a comet’s tail.
While the Griffith does not seem to be having any special exhibits for this anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, it will be hosting a free star party for the public on July 21st . There will also be a summer festival at the Greek Theater for which tickets must be purchased.
So why not just make it a lost-in-space weekend then?
The Griffith is open Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free, as it has been since 1935 when it opened. Parking in the main lot will cost you so use the lower lots, which are free.
Mount Hollywood Trail
Alternatively, you could arrive, say, around 4 p.m. in Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the U.S., and have a picnic, complete with Moon Pies and bubble tea. Then lose those calories by hiking the Mount Hollywood Trail.
This trail provides sweeping views of the San Fernando Valley, San Gabriel Mountains, L.A., and the observatory too. If you reach the summit, you’ll have a 360-degree view of the area. You’ll also see an American flag that’s reminiscent of the moment when the Apollo 11 astronauts planted one on the Moon. Head back down the trail and over to the observatory for a look through the Zeiss telescopes before you leave.
The Museum of Flight
This museum is vast. Head over to the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery, which is a 15,500 square foot area where you’ll find a full-fuselage space shuttle trainer as well as the new “Apollo” exhibit. This exhibit portrays the dramatic 1960s race to the Moon between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. Remarkably, you can see the massive F-1 engines, which powered the Apollo 12 into space. You’ll also find Moon rocks here, a lunar rover, Soviet spacecraft, Soviet and American space suits, and more.
The Museum of Flight is open daily. Admission ranges between $14 and $22, depending on your age. On the first Thursday of each month, the museum has free evening hours. And, for future reference, The Museum of Flight has been selected by the Smithsonian Institution to exhibit the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia from March 16 – September 2, 2019 for the 50th anniversary of the moonwalk.
The Space Needle
Built for the Century 21 Exposition in 1962, whose theme was “The Age of Space,” the futuristic Space Needle provides a stylish and unique 360-degree viewing experience. On a clear day, you can see downtown Seattle, Puget Sound with Elliott Bay, Mount Rainier, and Lake Union from its flying-saucer shaped observatory. And on a clear night, it’s the perfect spot to reach for the Moon.
The Space Needle is now about 80% of the way through a major renovation. The remodel, or “Spacelift,” as it’s called, rips out concrete and metal and replaces it with glass – tons of glorious glass! – enhancing your viewing experience without and within it. Here are some highlights: the safety cage on the outer observatory deck has been replaced with outwardly slanted glass panels (think far out selfies); the exterior concrete walls of the deck have been replaced with floor-to-ceiling glass; and the restaurant’s rotating floor is also being redone in glass. More elevators have been added too. So, go at sunset to see if you can see the moonrise from this incredible icon of Seattle.
The Space Needle is open daily, even as the renovation is being completed. Admission ranges from $14 to $29, depending on your age and the time of day that you go. The Space Needle plus Chihuly Garden combo tickets are recommended.
National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution
This museum is the Dreamliner of air and space museums, one of the best in the country, if not the world. Sharing the city with NASA’s headquarters, it offers an absorbing blend of history, politics, and aviation technology.
Whatever kind of aeronautical vehicle interests you, you’re likely to see it represented in one form or another here or at the Udvar-Hazy Center, the museum’s Dulles Annex. (There’s even a model of the Starship Enterprise that was used in the creation of the original TV series.) There are many interesting exhibits, and it’s a super way to celebrate the Apollo 11 anniversary.
This museum is so large that it’s hard to know where to begin. If you’ll be bringing the kids, you might want to go directly to the “How Things Fly” exhibit, which will engage them with its interactive activities. Kids also love the virtual reality space adventures, which feature a spacewalk experience, and the flight simulators.
Be sure to also visit the recently renovated Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, which shows how aviation and space flight have opened the world to us over the years, and where you can touch Moon rocks. Also, see the “Apollo to the Moon” exhibit.
A lot of people visit the museum for a look at the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, but it’s on the road in a traveling exhibit called “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission.” This itinerant exhibit promotes the creation of museum’s soon-to-be-permanent one of the same name, which is scheduled to be finished in 2021.
The National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution is open daily, and admission is free.
Saint Louis Science Center
If you’ll be in the Gateway City this summer, then you must go to the Smithsonian’s “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission” exhibit at the Saint Louis Science Center. It’s a state-of-the-art traveling exhibit that will only be here until September 3, when it leaves for the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Saint Louis Science Center has nicely put this exhibit within the context of the city’s history, including the crucial role that the city played in the NASA Apollo space program as the home of the McDonnell-Douglas Company, which developed a lot of the space exploration technology. As you walk to the Apollo exhibit then, you pass by period store fronts stocked with artifacts like Moon-related games and copies of Life magazine that transport you to 1960s Saint Louis. You even go through a period house in which you can watch the 1969 Moon walk on a vintage TV.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is of course the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, but you’ll also marvel at space attire such as a cool, gold-shielded helmet and astronaut gloves as well as other artifacts of the voyage.
And don’t forget to party like it’s 1969 at the Science Center’s Landing Party this Friday. It’s a retro-styled bash for those who are 21+.
The Saint Louis Science Center is open daily, and general admission is free. Admission to the Destination Moon exhibit within costs $8 to $10, depending on your age.
How will you be celebrating the 49th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moonwalk? Let us know in the comments.
[Our feature photo: Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin posing next to the American flag, which he and astronaut Neil Armstrong planted on the Moon on July 20, 1969. Armstrong captured this moment with his 70mm Hasselblad lunar surface camera. This photo is courtesy of NASA on The Commons via Flickr.]