This post was most recently updated on July 18th, 2019

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 and become the first person to walk on the Moon. 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, half a century later.

For though interest in Moon exploration waned after the Apollo program, it’s now having a resurgence at home and abroad. NASA, for instance, is currently testing its Orion spacecraft for upcoming Moon missions, and China recently became the first country to land a rover on the far side of the Moon. Such developments, of course, have the news media heralding a new space race – one with more, better equipped players – in which the Moon figures as a stepping stone to Mars, a desolate and challenging 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 50th anniversary of the first walk on the Moon as we look forward to our next giant leap into space.

So check out our guide to some celestial ways to celebrate in the the following cities where they know a thing or two about space exploration.

Houston, TX

A nearly full Moon graces Houston, TX, home of the NASA Johnson Space Center. / Photo by Adam Baker via Flickr. Creative Commons License 2.0

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 (JSC). This is where Mission Control monitored all of the Apollo space flights, taking the reigns from the Launch Control Center at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral soon after each liftoff.

When you visit Space Center Houston, which is the Official Visitor Center of JSC, you can see the control center (now called the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission 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. Incredibly, it looks and feels pretty much like it did back then thanks to a multi-million dollar, meticulous restoration of this national historic landmark that saw NASA through 30 years of manned space flight. The authentic sage-green consoles on which flight controllers monitored mission data have all been completely restored and reanimated. No detail was overlooked. Even those nerdy black three-ring binders, vintage amber-colored ashtrays complete with boxes of Marlboro cigarettes, Styrofoam cups, personal coffee mugs, pencils, and soda cans have been placed on or around the consoles, making the room appear like the controllers just stepped out for a moment. A free, timed ticket is required to visit. You can get one on the day of your visit at ticket booths, kiosks, and the guest services desk there.

As you would expect, JSC is going all out for the 50th anniversary, offering a multitude of activities such as luncheons with Apollo flight controllers, film screenings, tram tours, science labs, history presentations and much more, in a celebration that runs from July 16 through July 24. Notably, July 20th features Apollo 11 50th Live, an all-day lunar celebration and countdown to Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon. On this day, you can enjoy late-night NASA tram tours, notable speakers, book signings, an outdoor festival with a concert, a family STEM zone, and more. See the full calendar of Apollo 11 activities and prices and then plan out how you’ll join the party.

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.

Houston Museum of Natural Science and Its Burke Baker Planetarium

Your voyage to the Moon awaits you at the Burke Baker Planetarium in the Houston Museum of Natural Science. / Photo by etee via Flickr.  Creative Commons License 2.0

For the big 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moonwalk, the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) felt that it should celebrate by doing nothing less than lassoing the Moon and bringing it right on down to Houston. Do Texans know how to throw a party or what? However, since it probably didn’t want to be seen as stealing the thunder from George Bailey who promised to do that for Mary in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, the museum did the next best thing. It brought the Museum of the Moon, a touring artwork by UK artist Luke Jerram, to its Alfred C. Glassell, Jr. Hall. In so doing, it aims to give its visitors a feeling for the lunar experience that’s akin to what the Apollo 11 astronauts had.

The Museum of the Moon is a 23-foot wide replica of the Moon that’s lit from within so that it shines silvery white; that’s hung from a modest, easily viewable height so that it appears large just above your head, or at arm’s length, as it has only ever appeared so before in your dreams; and, that’s complimented by an ethereal surround sound track by Dan Jones that’ll put you in the mood for liftoff. As you marvel at its highly-detailed lunar surface, which is composed of NASA satellite imagery that has a realistic, sculptural appearance, you’ll find it’s quite easy indeed to escape Earth’s gravitational pull for a little while and float in space as if you were in orbit with Apollo 11. To maximize your experience though, try Destination Moon, an immersive virtual reality experience designed for this installation that lets you land on the Moon, circle the ISS, and even visit a Moon colony.

In tandem with Museum of the Moon, the Burke Baker Planetarium will be defying gravity as well with its new show called, appropriately enough, Defy Gravity. Developed by HMNS astronomers especially for this 50th anniversary, it begins with Apollo astronauts enjoying the low gravity Moon and then goes on to explore other worlds in our solar system.

And on the evening of July 20th, Dr. David King of the Lunar and Planetary Institute will give a talk using The Moon sculpture to point out the Moon’s geologic formations, asteroid impacts, and historic landing sites. The evening will conclude with a performance by WindSync, an award-winning wind quintet, who will play a piece composed by Marc Mellits to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing.

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.

Check out the HMNS website for all the details and pricing on its activities and those of the Burke Baker Planetarium.

Los Angeles, CA

A full moon over a luminous L.A. steals the show every time. / Photo by Arman Thanvir via Flickr. Creative Commons License 2.0.

Griffith Observatory

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. You can always 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.

But do plan to attend some of the special activities that the Griffith will be offering for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 with its  Golden Moon Festival, which runs from July 13th to 24th. All the fun begins with a free Golden Moon Star Party on July 13 that’ll feature night sky watching using telescopes set up on its lawn. Other notable events include a special screening of CNN Films’ Apollo 11 movie and a Rooftop Moon Party on July 19th as well as the program called To Walk on the Moon: Past, Present, and Future on July 20th, which is a whole day of presentations, activities, and celebrations in honor of one of humankind’s greatest achievements. Check out the full menu of events on the Griffith website.

The Griffith is open Tuesday through Sunday. While admission is free, as it has been since 1935 when it opened, there are costs for some of the special Apollo 11 events. Parking in the main lot will cost you so use the lower lots, which are free.

The Griffith Observatory is an out-of-this-world place in the City of Angels from which to view the city lights and the night sky. / Photo by Ron Reiring via Flickr. Creative Commons License 2.0.

Mount Hollywood Trail

You can also 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. When you reach the summit, you’ll have a 360-degree view of the area. You’ll also see an American flag there 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 special Apollo 11 event or for a look through the Zeiss telescopes before you leave.

Seattle, WA 

A cheddar Moon in Seattle, Washington. / Photo by Ingrid Taylor via Flickr.  Creative Commons License 2.0

The Museum of Flight

This museum seems almost as vast as space itself. Begin at the beginning: with the space race. 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 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 Apollo 12 into space.  You’ll also find Moon rocks here, a lunar rover, Soviet spacecraft, Soviet and American space suits, and more.

Then take in Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, an exhibit being presented in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution. It includes more than 20 one-of-a-kind space mission artifacts from the Smithsonian, many that flew on the Apollo 11 historic mission, plus dozens of NASA and Russian spaceflight additions from the Museum’s renowned collection. The highlight of this exhibit is the historic NASA Apollo 11 command module, Columbia. Visitors can see the spaceship up close like never before, and can explore its intricate interior with an interactive 3-D tour created from the Smithsonian’s high-resolution scans.

Whatever you do though, don’t miss the museum’s Apollo 11 anniversary weekend Lunar Block Party. It begins with Flashback Friday on July 19th with live performances by the Britishmania Beatles Tribute band and plenty of 60s-themed activities; continues on Saturday night, July 20th with American Idol live in concert; and concludes on July 21st with Splashdown Sunday, a brunch meet and greet with space experts. Admission to Destination Moon is included in the cost of some of the Lunar Block Party main events. See The Museum of Flight website for all of the details and costs.

The Museum of Flight is open daily. Regular admission ranges between $14 and $22, depending on your age.  On the first Thursday of each month, the museum has free evening hours. 

The Space Needle

On some nights, you feel like you can just reach out and touch the Moon from the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington. / Photo by Moon Shoot 1. via Flickr Creative Commons License 2.0

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 has just enjoyed a complete remodeling, or “Spacelift,” in which most, if not all, of its 1960s concrete and metal has been ripped out and replaced with glass – tons of glorious glass! – to enhance your viewing experience without and within it. Here are some highlights: the metal 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 has also been 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. Hey, elevate your awe!

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.

Washington, D.C.

Monumental Moon. / Photo by Kevin Dooley via Flickr. Creative Commons License 2.0

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. The extent to which Washington politics and space flight are intertwined is dramatically represented by the image of the Saturn V rocket projection on the Washington Monument on the Smithsonian’s Apollo 50 web page.  As part of its celebration, the museum will project a life-size image of the 363-foot tall rocket, which carried Apollo 11 to the Moon, onto the east face of the monument from 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on July 16-20.

In addition to its ongoing Apollo 11 Artifact Case, which displays many objects from the Apollo Moon landings, the Smithsonian is celebrating the anniversary of Apollo 11 with its Apollo 50 program of events. The fun begins on July 16th with a Launch Celebration that shows footage from the Apollo 11 launch and displays Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit (Has the Smithsonian got the goods or what?); on July 17th, you can see PBS’s ready Jet Go! special “One Small Step” with activities and visits from the cast; on July 18th, you’ve got Project Egress in which Adam Savage builds a life-size replica of command module Columbia’s hatch, and you’ve also got the Diplomacy panel in which Michael Collins and others discuss diplomacy in space; July 18th to 20th is the Apollo 50 Festival; July 19th is Discover the Moon Day; July 19th to 20th is the Go for the Moon projection show that unfolds on the face of the Washington Monument; and July 20th is a late-night celebration.

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,” which is currently at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA as mentioned above. 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, MO

The Gateway Arch leads to a beautiful crescent Moon on this night. / Photo by ShiningPhotography via Shutterstock.

Saint Louis Science Center

Having just finished hosting the Smithsonian’s “Destination Moon:  The Apollo 11 Mission” exhibit, the Saint Louis Science Center will be celebrating this year with a free Apollo 50th Anniversary Moon Landing Party, an all-day event that’s just jam-packed with interesting Apollo 11 activities on every floor of the center. From learning about making coffee in space to taking coffee with a variety of space professionals to its many interactive events such as building models of comets and meteorites to learning how to view the Moon and the stars with telescopes to a screening of the film Magnificent Desolation, the Saint Louis Science center offers you quite a lot. Be sure to check out all the details of the party before you go.

Saint Louis Science Center is open daily, and general admission is free. 

How will you be celebrating the 50th 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.]

Please follow and like us:

2 Responses

    • Avatar
      Joseph Decibus

      Hi Dick,
      Thanks for your comment. It’s nice to see that NASA engineers are reading us.

      You raise a great question. As the clock counts down to the exciting 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, we’re keeping an eye on announcements of celebrations that will be happening around the country. Though we’re not yet aware of any get-together for Apollo 11 NASA engineers, we certainly hope that something will be planned for you folks where you can reminisce about those incredible early days of space flight that you helped make possible. If we do hear of one, we’ll be sure to let you know, but in the meantime consider the following.

      As you’re probably already aware, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin has recently created his Apollo 11 50th anniversary website. He promises to post a schedule of events soon at https://roadtoapollo50th.com/schedule-of-events/. So you might want to check it periodically to see if there’s something you’d like to join. Also, have you tried reaching out to NASA Goddard where you worked? Maybe they might be planning – or might be encouraged to host – some event or party for Apollo 11 engineers like the one that MIT held on the 30th anniversary for its Apollo engineers (see http://news.mit.edu/1999/apollo-0911). Lastly, please check your inbox for an additional idea that we’ve sent to you by email.

      Thanks again for reaching out to us.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

About The Author

Avatar

Joseph Decibus writes for CheapOair and is also an avid traveler who occasionally writes about his trips. He looks forward to informing readers periodically about interesting places and events throughout the world.