This summer marks 50 years since astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins made history, guiding a successful Apollo 11 mission that culminated in Armstrong and then Aldrin taking mankind’s first steps on the moon.
It was a big deal then; an estimated 600 million people watched as they planted an American flag on the lunar surface.
It is still a big deal; you can find new exhibits and special events commemorating the Apollo anniversary at science museums across the country, including the Cosmosphere International SciEd Center and Space Museum less than an hour from Wichita in Hutchinson.
The exhibits and events are designed to help those who experienced the moon landing relive their memories while introducing the global excitement to those who didn’t witness it, said Carla Stanfield, public relations coordinator for the Cosmosphere.
“I was born in the 1980s, so for someone in my generation we don’t have a historic national moment of pride that we can connect to like the moon landing was for the generation above us,” she said. “Having this moment where most of the world was watching the United States make history for humankind is pretty humbling and exciting. We hope to capture some of that.”
In planning the events and exhibits at the Cosmosphere, Stanfield said she found two aspects that were especially impressive to her: timing and technology. It was 1961 when President John F. Kennedy proposed to Congress that the U.S. land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.
“This was a feat that came about within just a couple of years of sending humans to space,” Stanfield said. “What we were able to do and how quickly we did it – those are huge feats. The technology was developed at lightning speed and while it was top-of-the-line technology, I like to remind people that the mission control consoles are essentially the size of a refrigerator yet had the capability to do less than a current cell phone.”
For those in the space community, Apollo 11’s anniversary brings mixed emotions.
“It’s a happy memory and a vivid memory for many, but it can also be a frustrating memory,” Stanfield said. “It’s been 50 years since we have had a milestone like this in space. The fact that it’s been that long is astounding to a lot of people in the science community.”
She added that the community is energized by recent NASA initiatives calling for missions to the moon and beyond. A film crew from NASA Johnson Space Center was at the Cosmosphere last week to film segments for a program that will air on Discovery’s Science Channel and nasa.gov on July 19. “NASA’s Giant Leaps: Past and Future – Celebrating Apollo 50th as we Go Forward to the Moon” will look back at Apollo 11 and look ahead at plans to return humans to the moon by 2024.
The Cosmosphere opened in 1962, though it was predominantly a planetarium in its first decade. Apollo lunar missions ended in 1972 and as NASA decommissioned its Apollo-era spacecraft and hardware, the Cosmosphere started to start build its collection. Today it’s known for having the largest combined collection of U.S. and Soviet-era space artifacts in the world.
Its Hall of Space Museum displays 650 artifacts, including an Apollo gallery with authentic and replica artifacts. One of the museum’s three American-flown spacecraft is the 1970 Apollo 13 command module.
Highlights among the genuine Apollo 11 artifacts include Collins’ training suit, a moon rock and one of three remaining white rooms. This room was removed from launch pad 39 at Kennedy Space Center and would have been the area where Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins made final preparations before entering the spacecraft. Next to it is a console removed from the mission control room at Johnson Space Center, where a flight surgeon studied the astronauts’ medical conditions.
There’s also a thrust chamber from Apollo 11’s Saturn V F-1 engine displayed. It is one of several engine components salvaged from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 2013 through a Jeff Bezos-led expedition and preserved for museum displays by SpaceWorks, a division that provides space hardware restoration and replication. SpaceWorks recently worked with NASA to restore mission control consoles to the Apollo-era for a 50th anniversary exhibit at Space Center Houston.
The Cosmosphere has already launched special exhibits and activities of its own to commemorate the 50th anniversary and extended its hours through Aug. 4: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.
New exhibits will run through the summer: “Apollo Redux” is a Cosmosphere-created traveling exhibit that uses an authentic mission control console to share the jobs of historic and modern-day mission control personnel; “We Choose to Go to the Moon” focuses on sharing what the moon is made of and why we want to explore it; and “Sun, Earth, Universe” is a NASA interactive exhibit geared to families with young children.
There are Apollo 11-themed activities including a scavenger hunt, a selfie station and a celebration wall where guests can either share their favorite memory of the moon landing or make up what their famous first words would be if they were in Armstrong’s place.
A new documentary released earlier this year, “Apollo 11,” is being shown in the museum’s digital dome theater. It has no narration, instead uses audio recordings and historic footage – some of it never-before-used – and makes audiences feel like they are witnessing the mission.
The Cosmosphere has a celebration week planned July 15 through 20, the anniversary of the landing. Some activities carry a fee while others are free. For those interested in history or science, there are presentations by author and producer Rick Houston (July 15), Cosmosphere curator Shannon Whetzel (July 16) and longtime museum docent Paul Lytle (July 18).
The week culminates on Saturday, July 20 with a full schedule. Visitors can participate in the free Space Out Saturday activities for young children from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the lobby. There is also 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.
Extra guided tours will be offered with a paid admission to the Hall of Space Museum. At noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., visitors can take a full museum tour. At 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., tours focus on Apollo 11 and Apollo-era artifacts.
From 6 to 11:30 p.m., Landing on the Lawn will happen right outside the museum on the Hutchinson Community College lawn. It’s free and involves community organizations providing hands-on moon and space-themed activities and live science demonstrations. Food trucks will sell food and drink.
After dark, watch the 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 diameter telescope.
A full schedule is available at cosmo.org/Apollo50 along with event and museum admission prices.
Among the other places to celebrate Apollo 11’s golden anniversary this summer is where the astronauts trained in Arizona, the launch site in Florida and the command center in Texas.
If you can’t make it for the anniversary, these are year-round destinations and many of the special exhibits will continue through the summer, if not longer.
After Armstrong’s first steps, 11 other people walked on and explored the moon over the ensuing three years. Part of their preparation happened in the Flagstaff, Ariz., area.
Today you can visit Cinder Lake, where astronauts practiced lunar landings on the black volcanic fields, or Meteor Crater, where they honed their skills driving the rover over the ancient meteorite impact site. At Lowell Observatory, you can peer into the same eyepiece astronauts and scientists did to get familiar with the moon’s surface.
The city has an ongoing Flagstaff Lunar Legacy celebration with special exhibits throughout the community and a self-guided trail to follow. On Saturday, July 20 a full-day event a Lowell Observatory includes tours, concerts, film screenings, presentations by past and current scientists as well as a professional astronomer. Lowell has an exhibit highlighting its role in helping create detailed maps of the lunar surface that will run through the end of 2019.
From Sept. 20-29, the 30th annual Flagstaff Festival of Science To the Moon and Beyond will offer more than 100 free public science education activities for all ages at observatories, research stations, national parks and forests, field sites and laboratories. Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke is scheduled to attend. A schedule is available at https://www.scifest.org/.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Merritt Island, Fla.
Less than an hour east of Orlando, you can visit the site where a Saturn V rocket launched Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969. Kennedy Space Center is NASA’s primary launch center and its visitor complex includes mission zones that take you through the U.S. Space Program in chronological order.
The Apollo era mission zone includes authentic artifacts from every Apollo mission and has been reimagined for the 50th anniversary. The upgrades will be unveiled on July 15. In addition to walking beneath an actual 363-foot-long moon rocket, now you can see the Astrovan that transported the Apollo 11 astronauts to the launch pad.
The complex has a variety of 50th anniversary events planned, from a flashback event at 9:32 a.m. on July 16 that will take visitors through the launch sequence in real time to a moon landing event on July 20 to a re-creation of the welcome home celebration once the astronauts splashed down on July 24. Details are available at https://kennedyspacecenter.com/landing-pages/Apollo-50th.
Space Center Houston
Space Center Houston is the visitor center of NASA Johnson Space Center, the home of mission control for the Apollo missions. It is scheduled to complete a restoration of the Apollo Mission Control Center, a national historic landmark, this week. Visitors will see mission control in its Apollo-era configuration as part of tram tours beginning in early July.
Space Center Houston has anniversary events scheduled every day July 16-24. Included in regular admission are daily Apollo 11-themed mission briefings and pop-up science labs. There are also opportunities requiring a special ticket. Lunches with Apollo-era flight controllers and children of Apollo-era astronauts are scheduled, as well as dinner with legendary NASA flight director Gene Kranz, who will share his experience at Apollo Mission Control during the Apollo 11 landing.
The main event is an all-day festival, Apollo 11 50th Live, on Saturday, July 20. Notable speakers, book signings, a family STEM zone and outdoor concerts are among the activities planned. At 9:56 p.m., there will be an interactive countdown to Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.