“Hey, we missed the whole thing,” Buzz Aldrin famously quipped to fellow moonwalker Neil Armstrong as the astronauts watched video of news coverage of their Apollo 11 lunar landing while in quarantine after returning to Earth four days after becoming the first humans to accomplish the feat.
If you, too, missed the July 1969 NASA mission that captivated the world, you can relive it during the next week as the country – including three sites within an hour of Wichita – celebrates the Apollo 11 50th anniversary. Launched on July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 included Aldrin, Armstrong and Michael Collins, the command module pilot. Aldrin and Armstrong landed the Apollo lunar module Eagle on July 20 and spent 21 hours and 36 minutes on the moon’s surface.
Then Apollo 11 and the three-man crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24. Public events are scheduled at Exploration Place in downtown Wichita, Lake Afton Public Observatory in western Sedgwick County and at the Cosmosphere, about 50 miles northwest of Wichita.
Lake Afton Public Observatory
Lake Afton Public Observatory has a 16-inch Ritchey-Chrétien reflector telescope along with a 6-inch refracting telescope in its dome, Apollo-related exhibits, lunar displays, plus special moon programming every night it is open in July. That’s 9 to 11:30 p.m. each Friday and Saturday.
Visitors are welcome to bring their own equipment, and volunteers often bring their telescopes to the outside pad on clear nights to offer views to visitors, including pointing out where on the moon Apollo 11 explored.
Depending on the topic and the crowd flow, the moon sessions might repeat more than once in an evening. If you’re visiting specifically for a presentation, which is included with general admission, be there by 9:30 p.m. to make sure you don’t miss it.
Remaining sessions include:
July 12, hands-on lesson on why we see the moon go through phases (recommended for ages 8 and older)
July 13, an overview of each Apollo mission with time for questions (ages 12 and older)
July 19, hear proof that we really did go to the moon (ages 10 and older)
July 20, tips for observing the moon, from when to how (ages 10 and older)
July 26, a look at the future of human spaceflight (ages 10 and older)
July 27, hands-on activity to understand why we only see one side of the moon and to compare the size of the Earth and moon to the average distance that separates them (ages 8 and older).
The observatory building is owned by Sedgwick County and is at the north end of the county’s Lake Afton Park, off MacArthur Road about 10 miles west of Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. It is operated as a nonprofit by a group of volunteers, many who are members of the Kansas Astronomical Observers, who saved it from permanent closure when Wichita State University closed it in 2015 for budget reasons.
Admission is $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $4 for ages 5-13, or a maximum $20 per family. Annual passes are available that will save you money if you visit at least four times in one year.
Exploration Place, Wichita’s science center, has a new Apollo digital dome theater film as well as three special events throughout the next week.
“CAPCOM GO! The Apollo Story” plays several times daily through at least Sept. 2. You do not have to pay museum admission to see the film; dome tickets range from $3-$5 per person. A temporary photo gallery in the theater lobby explores the moon walk and what’s in store as NASA and private companies plan for a return to the moon as well as Mars.
Martin Ratcliffe, an original Exploration Place staffer in 2000 and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the International Planetarium Society, curated the photography and information for the gallery.
EP21, the museum’s quarterly young adult event falls on Thursday, July 18 and will have a 1960s theme to connect to the 1969 mission. EP21: Peace, Love and Science reserves access to the museum for ages 21 and older from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $5 per person in advance, $7 at the door.
LunarLeap50 is an all-ages celebration from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 20. Lake Afton Public Observatory staff will be at Exploration Place to talk about astronomy and the observatory, and most of the day’s activities are participatory.
An outdoor liquid nitrogen trashcan launch happens each hour starting at 10:45 a.m. and you’ll find other activities throughout the center’s galleries. There’s a station to explore craters by dropping different sized objects onto a surface then examining the indentions using special tools.
Test the challenges of delivering supplies when the lack of atmosphere on the moon prevents the use of parachutes to slow the descent of the payload by designing a package that will protect a raw egg you’ll drop from the mezzanine. Make a rocket out of paper and launch it at the stomp rocket rumble station, or make a rocket out of straws and paper to take home.
The event is included with general admission, which also includes the summer traveling exhibit “The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” Ken & Barbie’z Rollin’ Diner will be parked outside selling concessions from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission to Exploration Place, 300 N. McLean Blvd., is $10.50 for adults ages 12-64; $9 for seniors 65 and older and $7 for youth ages 3-11.
Senior Wednesday The final moon-related event at Exploration Place is a Senior Wednesday presentation at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 24. Admission is $4 plus tax for ages 55 and older. Long-time Cosmosphere docent Paul Lytle will recall the Apollo missions and discuss future space exploration.
In Hutchinson, less than an hour from Wichita, is the largest combined collection of U.S. and Soviet-era space artifacts in the world. Among the Cosmosphere International SciEd Center and Space Museum’s 650 relics are authentic and replica Apollo artifacts, from Collins’ Apollo 11 training suit to the Apollo 13 command module flown in 1970.
The museum has temporary and traveling Apollo exhibits and activities for all ages through the rest of the summer. A new documentary, “Apollo 11,” in the museum’s digital dome theater uses audio recordings and historic footage – some of it never-before-used – to relive the mission.
Extended summer hours through Aug. 4 are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Admission to the museum at 100 N. Plum St. starts at $13.50 for adults, $11.50 for seniors and $10 for ages 4-12; theaters have additional fees or an all-access pass also is available.
The Cosmosphere has celebration events scheduled July 15 through 20, some have fees and others are free (full schedule at cosmo.org/Apollo50). These range from book signings to history presentations, and the week culminates on Saturday, July 20 with a day of activity.
Space Out Saturday activities are free for young children from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. with paid admission. Also, extra guided tours will be offered in the Hall of Space Museum. At noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., take a full museum tour. At 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., tours focus on the Apollo era.
There is a free screening of a new Smithsonian Channel documentary “The Day We Walked On The Moon” at noon and 2 p.m. in the Justice Planetarium. Seating is limited and is first come, first served.
From 6 to 11:30 p.m., Landing on the Lawn will bring free hands-on moon and space-themed activities and demonstrations to the Hutchinson Community College lawn right outside the museum.
After dark, watch a replay of CBS’ live footage of the 1969 moon landing followed by the documentary “The Day We Walked On The Moon.” Science educators will offer moon and planet observing using the Cosmosphere’s 16-inch telescope. Food trucks will sell concessions throughout the event.