Apollo at 50: A Celebration Guide
The 50 best films, events, books, websites, and souvenirs.
On the National Mall in Washington, D.C., at museums and theaters across the country, at most NASA centers, and in cities and towns around the world, people will celebrate that one small step taken 50 years ago when a person from Earth first walked on the moon. We’ve surveyed the plans and selected some of our favorite ways to remember and learn about the Apollo program leading up to the July 20 anniversary.
Above: We begin with a rare opportunity to see the moon’s far side: The Museum of the Moon, an illuminated, 23-foot-diameter balloon, designed by British installation artist Luke Jerram from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images, will be in Providence, Rhode Island this July. Plans are to exhibit it at the Rhode Island State House.
Armstrong’s Spacesuit at the Museum and Ballpark
Apollo celebrations have already begun at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The spacesuit worn by Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong has been undergoing restoration and will be on view beginning July 16, along with dozens of Apollo artifacts. Apollo Lunar Module number 2 (LM-2), an unflown version of the two-stage vehicle that ferried astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface and back, is displayed in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall. Originally built without landing gear for a (later canceled) uncrewed test in Earth orbit, LM-2 has been modified for display purposes to look like the Apollo 11 Eagle.
In June, Major League Baseball joins the Museum in a salute to moon landings with "Apollo at the Park." At 15 ballparks across the country, replica statues of Armstrong's spacesuit will greet baseball fans.
The Museum’s Apollo 50 Festival runs from July 18 to July 20, and the Museum will stay open to the public until 2 a.m. on all three days, with special programming and activities. Find out more at airandspace.si.edu/apollo50.
Columbia On Display in Seattle
Destination Moon, a touring exhibit of 20 Smithsonian artifacts related to the first lunar landing, includes the command module Columbia, the spacecraft that returned the Apollo 11 astronauts to Earth. Visit the Museum of Flight in Seattle between April 13 and September 2 to see Columbia as it concludes its only tour in almost 50 years. The Museum of Flight also has a child-friendly version for hands-on play. Admission is $10 plus the general admission of $25, though several free community days are planned. Details at museumofflight.org.
Race to the Moon at the Kennedy Space Center
At the NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, visitors can touch a moon rock, walk beneath the giant Saturn V rocket, and see the Apollo astronaut transfer van that ferried Apollo astronauts to Launch Pad 39A as part of the Race to the Moon exhibit. Regular adult admission to KSC and its rocket garden is $57. Download the free smartphone app before you go via Google Play or the App Store.
Lunar Module Kit
Build your own moon lander—both ascent stage and descent stage—with the Apollo Lunar Module kit, containing 380 plastic bricks and two astronauts, and made by COBI under license from the Smithsonian. Recommended for children six and older. $34.53 at Walmart.com.
Mobile Quarantine Facility on USS Hornet
The mobile quarantine facility (MQF) was a converted Airstream trailer where crews just back from the moon remained in isolation until it was determined they hadn’t carried any harmful bugs back to Earth. It contained living and sleeping quarters, a kitchen, and a bathroom. Astronauts donned protective suits on splashdown, and as soon as the Navy SH-3D Sea King helicopter carried them to the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, they were confined to the MQF. After cruising to Hawaii, the Airstream, with crew inside, was loaded onto a Lockheed C-141 Starlifter and flown to Houston. Peek in the MQF windows at the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, California. Adult admission to the carrier is $20. See USS-Hornet.org.
5,000 Model Rockets To Launch in Huntsville, Alabama
The Saturn V rocket carrying the crew of Apollo 11 lifted off at 09:32 Eastern Daylight Time (Florida) on July 16, 1969. Join model rocketeers this July 16 at 08:32 a.m. Alabama time at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, as they attempt a Guinness World Record with a simultaneous launch of 5,000 rockets. General admission is $25. Huntsville is nicknamed “the Rocket City” for its sprawling facilities and hiring surge during the Apollo program.
Your smartphone can ring with a free Apollo-program ringtone extracted from 19,000 hours of audio at archive.org, collected by Apollo’s mission operations control room (MOCR) and digitized by the University of Texas and NASA’s Houston audio control room (ACR). Download ringtones (in MP3 format for Android) or Mr4 for iPhone that include “We Have a Liftoff,” “The Eagle Has Landed,” “That’s One Small Step for Man,” and “Houston, We’ve Had a Problem.”
Moon Rock at National Cathedral
At the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., a lunar rock returned from the moon’s Sea of Tranquility is the centerpiece of the stained-glass Space Window, dedicated in 1974 by the crew of Apollo 11—“a fragment of creation, from beyond the Earth.” The 3.6-billion-year-old moon rock, weighing 7.18 grams, is sealed in tempered glass filled with nitrogen to prevent deterioration in Earth’s atmosphere. Its composition is largely volcanic basalt, though it also contains pyroxferroite, a mineral first discovered in moon rocks.
Futura, Typeface of Apollo
Commemorate the Apollo era by selecting for your documents the font Futura, which was adopted as the official Apollo style for everything from press kits to mission checklists. A sans serif typeface, Futura was created by a graphic designer influenced by the Bauhaus movement and used largely for political artwork until NASA chose it as the iconic typeface of the Space Age. The agency later codified Futura in its first graphic standards manual (free online; search for NASA publication NHB 1430.2).
Oldest Lunar Globes
British artist and amateur astronomer John Russell spent 30 years drawing maps of the moon, based on observations with a small, powerful refracting telescope. Between 1794 to 1797, he crafted his drawings into lunar globes that were, at the time, the world’s most accurate and today are the world’s oldest. Because only one side of the moon is visible from Earth, only one hemisphere of Russell’s globe is illustrated; the other is blank. Several of Russell’s papier-mâché globes, or selenographia, are on display: in England, at the History of Science Museum at the University of Oxford, London’s Science Museum, and the National Maritime Museum; and in Spain, at the Royal Observatory in Madrid. They have also been bought by collectors; in 2012, Bonhams auctioned a Russell globe for $242,500.
Astronaut Geology Training Sites
You cannot yet walk in the footprints left by Apollo astronauts on the moon, but you can follow in their footsteps on Earth. At many sites around the world, the astronauts trained to become lunar geologists. Most of those sites are accessible today. Begin with a free download of the PDF guide, Science Training History of the Apollo Astronauts by William Phinney, which describes dozens of Apollo training sites used from 1962 to 1972, including one in Husavik, Iceland, which now has a museum nearby (explorationmuseum.com).
Illuminated Lunar Globes
For those of us who can’t afford John Russell’s lovely globes (see number 10), French designer Oscar Lhermitte has created a lower-cost likeness. From 15,000 high-resolution images returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Lhermitte globes come in scales of one-to-20 million or one-to-11.5 million. A circle of LED lights revolves to imitate the moon’s phases. An illuminated 6.8-inch moon is $835 (without LEDs $450); an 11.8-inch moon is $644 (moonproject.space/lunar-globe/).
Apollo Commemorative Coins
The U.S. Mint has created a series of curved, commemorative coins featuring the lunar scene reflected in Buzz Aldrin’s visor on the convex side and an astronaut’s boot print in the moon dust on the concave side. Prices start at $30.95 for a 2019 clad half dollar. Coins can be ordered by phone (1-800-872-6468) or online: catalog.usmint.gov.
Apollo Display Keyboard
The display keyboard (DSKY) built by Raytheon helped perfect a then revolutionary method to command spacecraft systems during Apollo missions. Using a table of 99 verbs and 99 nouns, each one assigned a numerical code, astronauts punched in commands for the onboard computer to execute. An S&T Geotronics kit (opendsky.com) provides all the pieces to replicate a working DSKY, which can be used to run your desktop music system or simple programs. Components are priced starting at $40, or the DSKY will arrive fully assembled for $900, or up to $8,000 for an aluminum version. An original prototype is displayed at the Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.
Apollo: The Race to the Moon
Published in 1989 for the 20th anniversary of the first moon landing and republished in 2004 with a new foreword by the authors, Apollo: The Race to the Moon by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox is widely held to be among the best histories of the Apollo program. Available from Amazon.com in paperback or for Kindle.
Apollo 11 Documentary Film
Apollo 11, a 93-minute documentary, including never-before-seen film shot by MGM Studios in 1969, opened in theaters March 1. Combining rare film discovered at the National Archives with NASA footage, and adding mission audio, director Todd Douglas Miller presents nine days of history’s most famous space mission.
A&S Collector's Edition: Apollo and the New Explorers
The Air & Space/Smithsonian magazine collector’s edition, Apollo and the New Explorers, is 104 pages packed with Apollo facts, lore, and photographs, with a foreword by Tom Hanks. Available beginning May 21 for $9.99 from newsstands and at airspacemag.com/collectorseditions.
3D Apollo 11 Files
Download free zip files from NASA to create and print three-dimensional models capturing all aspects of the lunar landing missions, from launch on the Saturn V rocket to the Apollo 11 lunar module, a map of the landing area on the Sea of Tranquility, and a model of the bootprint left in the lunar soil.
Apollo Command Module Test Articles
As many as three dozen models of the Apollo command module were built by North American Rockwell, some as near-perfect “boilerplates” for crew training while others served as rough mockups suited to specific engineering tests. Seek out the surviving Apollo models beginning with a boilerplate at the National Air and Space museum, which served in water egress training for all Apollo crews, then surf the Field Guide to American Spacecraft to find the rest, including the front yard of a Dairy Queen in Franklin, Pennsylvania.
NASA Research Spinoffs
Any ’60s-era schoolchild is likely to name Tang drink mix, wrongly, as the prime spinoff of NASA technology to the consumer market (it actually pre-dated the space agency by a year). But dozens of products and practices really did originate with the Apollo program. In 1964 Congress mandated that NASA establish a technology transfer program to share taxpayer-funded breakthroughs with the private sector, now documented in NASA’s searchable Spinoff Database. The Exer-Genie developed at NASA for exercise during zero-g is the basis of modern isometric training. Ultrasonic inspection of welds in aluminum alloy spacecraft has since been used to examine hundreds of thousands of miles of railroad track. Comfort Products marketed thermal gloves and boots based on the Apollo 11 spacesuit, and advances in freeze-dried food that helped provision Apollo missions for up to 13 days made its way into the consumer marketplace.
Thermal Foil Lining from Apollo 11 Command Module
The Mini Museum offers a collection of original Apollo artifacts including a fragment of the Kapton foil flown aboard the Apollo 11 command module, measuring one square millimeter and enclosed in an acrylic cube for $69.00. The artifact ships with an information card on Apollo 11 which doubles as a display stand.
3D and Virtual-Reality Models of Columbia
The National Air and Space Museum has created detailed, high-resolution scans of the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, that you can download for free for 3D printing or viewing in virtual-reality goggles. Or you can view Columbia’s interior and exterior on the web without needing special equipment.
While gazing at the moon this July 20 sip a Budweiser Discovery Reserve, inspired by an archival brewing recipe from the Apollo 11 era. Budweiser describes it as an American red lager with light hoppy aroma, a hint of toffee, and a sharp finish, and looking to our next challenge, adds toasted malt dubbed “Voyager barley” to suggest the reddish tone of Mars.
Apollo Astronaut Corvettes
The 1969 Corvettes owned by Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean and Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden form the heart of the temporary exhibit From Gas Station to Space Station, at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Bean was part of an elite club of Apollo-era astronauts driving a Corvette leased at a bargain rate from General Motors.
Lunar Block Party at Museum of Flight
The Lunar Block Party, July 19-21 at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, will complement its Destination Moon exhibit with three days of live music including a reunion concert by finalists of ABC’s American Idol, as well as theater events, scientific panels, a gourmet luncheon, and locally-produced Apollo-theme food novelties such as Moon Rocks chocolate bars.
1,087-Piece LEGO Kit for Apollo 11 Lunar Lander
Connect just 1,087 pieces to complete a LEGO Creator Expert 10266 NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander Builder Kit, available for $99.99. The kit was fully upgraded this year in cooperation with NASA to include gold-colored landing pads, detailed lander interior, an opening camera, a crater with astronaut bootprints and a US flag, and golden helmets for the two miniature astronauts.
Observe the Moon Night, October 5, 2019
Celebrate our nearest neighbor in the solar system by joining the annual public viewing of the moon on October 5. Local listings and hosting information will be posted on the Web at Observe the Moon Night, or on Twitter using the hashtag #ObserveTheMoon. Before packing the hot chocolate, download a free PDF version of Moon Viewing Ideas For the Whole Family.
Tour the Moon in 4K
Stream an ultra-high resolution, five-minute video tour of the moon via NASA Goddard Flight Center’s Tour of the Moon in 4K, featuring its main geologic features, Apollo landing sites, its near and far sides, and flyovers of its poles all set to soaring music. Most of the stunning graphics used in the video can also be downloaded individually from the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio.
The European Space Agency (ESA) presents The Moon: ESA’s Interactive Guide, with 40 videos or interactive features narrated by experts on mission hardware, instrumentation, flight dynamics, life support, and the coming era of robotic landers and rovers. Viewers navigate to each topic by clicking on a panel of interest as it revolves around the lunar surface.
Interactive Moon Facts by NASA
At Earth’s Moon, use your mouse to rotate the moon and explore and call up detail on the Apollo landing sites, craters and basins, and the Marius Hills lava tube pit. The site offers 10 essential need-to-know facts but also invites an in-depth look and tables of key moon statistics.
View the Lunar Eclipse on July 16
Grab your eclipse sunglasses and head to South America or Africa to view the partial lunar eclipse on July 16, 2019. But first print an eclipse guide from NASA and read the advice on NASA’s Eclipse Web Site, ranging from how to keep your eyes safe to photography tips and where eclipses have been visible worldwide since 1801.
Tour the Moon in 3D Via Google
The latest version of Google Earth, released in time for the Apollo 11 anniversary, includes an option to See the Moon in 3D, with an astronaut-narrated tour of lunar landing sites, 3D models of rovers and landers, 360-degree panoramas, and rare television footage.
NASA posts a pair of videos capturing Apollo astronauts in their most playful and exhilarated moments, from singing a tune while strolling its surface to joyriding the lunar landscape.
Smithsonian at Space Academy
This November, and two more times in 2020, Smithsonian Journeys offers five days of VIP access to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, featuring private talks with astronauts Hoot Gibson and Michael Forman, along with NASA engineer and author Homer Hickam. Also included are Space Academy activities such as simulated group missions and the chance to try the multi-axis simulator and underwater astronaut trainer. Participants in the $3,995 adventure also visit the nearby NASA Marshall Space Flight Center to learn about rocketry and propulsion research.
Neil Armstrong Gallery at Cincinnati Museum Center
The Cincinnati Museum Center has opened the Neil Armstrong Space Exploration Gallery centered on its 360-degree immersive theater, along with a display of Armstrong’s “Snoopy” communications cap, formally known as the Comm Carrier, which was worn under his helmet. Adult admission is $14.50.
Planetarium and Virtual Reality at Palmyra Cove
The Palmyra Cove Nature Park in Palmyra, New Jersey, offers a free Weekend Walk on the Moon from July 19 to 21, led by a guide from its Institute For Earth Observations. The weekend includes planetarium shows, STEM learning activities, and a virtual-reality Lunar Learning Expedition inviting participants to perform Apollo scientific experiments.
Apollo Party at New York Hall of Science
The New York Hall of Science in Corona, New York, invites families for the evening of July 20 to Apollo, A Party! The event is free with museum admission and features a screening of Apollo 11: First Steps Edition, along with space-theme music and refreshments, and stargazing with the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Attendees can also enjoy a private viewing of its summertime exhibit Above and Beyond—The UItimate Flight Exhibition. Admission is $16 for adults, $13 for ages 2-17, with family and student discounts available.
A Summer of Space on PBS
Beginning July 8, PBS will offer a comprehensive selection of programming about Apollo called A Summer of Space, through its broadcast network as well as with digital storytelling. Its anchor program is Chasing the Moon, comprising six hours spread over three consecutive nights, documenting the history of the space race. The long-running PBS Antiques Road Show will air a special episode on NASA and space memorabilia dubbed Out of This World. On July 17 PBS will present the BBC Studios production 8 Days: To the Moon and Back. The NOVA series will present two new installments beginning with Back to the Moon on July 10, and The Planets on July 24. Also premiering on July 24 is the three-part docu-series Ancient Skies, which follows humanity's obsession with the skies. In addition PBS will re-air many of its classic programs on space exploration history including Apollo’s Daring Mission, the story of Apollo 8.
A Window to the Role of Glass
Find the hidden Man on the Moon at the Corning Museum of Glass, in Corning, New York as part of its Journey to the Moon: How Glass Got Us There. The surface of the moon is projected on the floor for visitors to walk over, samples of glassy meteorite are offered for touch, and expert glassmakers can help you make your own mold-blown glass moon ornament in iridescent gold (additional fee of $32). Adult admission is $20 but visitors under 17 get in free.
Muse at the Met
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York city presents an exhibit called Apollo’s Muse, with 255 moon-related objects, from 17th-century illustrations to maps to the first photographs of a lunar eclipse in North America, shot in 1854 by the Langenheim brothers. The exhibit is free with adult general admission of $25.
Take One Giant Sip
On July 12 from 6:00 to 10:30 pm, dress for moonwalking and join astronauts in a pub crawl in Cocoa Beach, Florida. In addition to a drink at each landing participants in the Astronaut Walking Pub Crawl get a commemorative t-shirt. A prize will be awarded to the best-dressed crawler. Participants must be age 21 or older, and the charge is $75. The pub crawl is just one of several Astronaut Scholarship Foundation events scheduled from July 12 to 14, including a golf tournament, an astronaut parade in classic Corvettes, and panel discussions on women in space and the future of space exploration.
Moon Fest at Cradle of Aviation
On July 20 the Cradle of Aviation museum in Garden City, New York, offers a day-long Moon Fest with a free screening of Apollo 11: First Steps, a model rocket launch, views through a solar telescope, and the chance to snap a selfie in a 1969-era living room while watching a countdown clock marking the Apollo 11 milestone to the minute. Admission is $20 for adults or $15 for children ages 2-12.
A new documentary on Neil Armstrong, simply titled Armstrong, opens July 12 in select theaters (check local listings). The film is narrated by Harrison Ford and traces Armstrong’s life from his childhood through the first step he took on the lunar surface.
Immersive Lunar Dome With A Live Cast
Gawk at Apollo 11: The Immersive Live Show, a 90-minute extravaganza featuring a live cast against the backdrop of a 360-degree video projection and music in a 40,000 square-foot lunar dome seating 1,600 guests. The event begins July 5 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, followed by performances beginning October 10 in Costa Mesa, California, and on dates to be announced in Houston, Texas. The experience captures the roar of the Saturn V rocket and key visuals from the journey to the moon, with engaging live narration.
Lunar Photos at National Gallery of Art
From July 14, 2019, through January 5, 2020, visit By the Light of the Silvery Moon: A Century of Lunar Photographs, at the National Gallery of Art on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The exhibit of more than 50 works features Warren de la Rue's late 1850s glass stereograph of the full moon, through stereographs of the lunar surface three inches square taken by Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.
Concert at Space Center Houston
On July 20 be among the first 15,000 attendees of Apollo 50th Live and receive an LED wristband synchronized to the mass countdown to the anniversary at 09:56 pm Central Time. The full-day event includes panel presentations by experts from the Apollo era, family science and robotic challenges, and late-night NASA tram tours, and is capped with a live concert by Walk the Moon. General admission tickets are $49.95 or VIP packages are up to $250.
Be The Astronaut
Try out “Be the Astronaut” at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada, or at the San Diego Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park, California. This fusion of a physical exhibit with video gaming technology and NASA reconnaissance data invites participants to command virtual experts who will guide them through landing on the lunar surface and driving a rover. Admission in San Diego is $19.95 for adults, or in Reno $12 for adults or $6 for guests under 18.
Lunar Art and Bobbleheads in Flagstaff
Visit the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, for its Lunar Legacy Events, ranging from lectures on astronaut training and lunar mapping to the giveaway of a Nick “Ahmed On the Moon” bobblehead on July 20 to 20,000 fans of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Pen Your Own Moon Story
Fisher pens have been issued to NASA astronauts for space missions since 1968. Ink an order for one of 500 individually-numbered, 50th anniversary edition Fisher Space Pens made of black titanium nitride-plated brass, its cap fused with an authentic artifact of Kapton thermal foil flown on the Apollo 11 Columbia module. The body features diamond-cut engravings of the Eagle’s landing. Priced at $700, including a certificate of authenticity for the foil cap.
Official Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Gala
On July 13 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Air Force One Pavilion in Simi, California, astronaut Buzz Aldrin will host a black tie/white spacesuit Anniversary Gala and four-course dinner joined by fellow astronauts Walt Cunningham, Charlie Duke, and Dave Scott, a dozen Space Shuttle astronauts, actor Gary Sinise, and musician Tommy James. While the VIP ticket sponsorship option at $3,500 is sold out, standard gala tickets at $1,000 are available and include an 8X10 print photo of yourself with Buzz Aldrin.