Next week, one of Washington, D.C.’s most iconic landmarks will be transformed into a launching pad for the 363-foot rocket that first brought man to the moon.
As the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum announced in a press release, a full-sized projection of Saturn V—the rocket that sent Apollo 11 into orbit on July 16, 1969—will grace the east face of the Washington Monument from 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on July 16, 17 and 18.
The “once-in-a-lifetime celebration” will continue over the next two nights, July 19 and 20, with a series of 17-minute shows combining full-motion projection-mapping artwork and archival footage to share the story of the Apollo 11 launch and subsequent moon landing.
According to the museum, the free performance, dubbed “Apollo 50: Go for the Moon,” is set to take place at 9:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday. The immersive experience will feature full sound, projection screens and a 40-foot-wide recreation of the Kennedy Space Center countdown clock.
Attendees will be able to see the show from a specified viewing area in front of the Smithsonian Castle. (A map of the set-up is available online.) Per DCist’s Matt Blitz, the space, located on the National Mall between 9th and 12th Streets, is equipped to hold an audience of up to 25,000 at a time, enabling a total of some 150,000 people to participate in the festivities across the six showtimes.
“Our identity as Americans is defined in part by the historic act of landing humans on the moon and returning them safely to … Earth,” Ellen Stofan, John and Adrienne Mars Director of the museum, says in the press release. “The Washington Monument is a symbol of our collective national achievements and what we can and will achieve in the future. It took 400,000 people from across the 50 states to make Apollo a reality. This program celebrates them, and we hope it inspires generations too young to have experienced Apollo firsthand to define their own moonshot.”
“Apollo 50: Go for the Moon” is the product of a partnership between the museum, the U.S. Department of the Interior and 59 Productions, a team of artists best known for creating the video design of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony. As the company’s website states, the large-scale event will be set to music by “House of Cards” composer Jeff Beal and projected onto both the Washington obelisk and surrounding screens. Blitz further explains that the projection mapping technique used in the show combines video projection with augmented reality to turn “irregularly-shaped objects” such as the monument into screens.
These public performances are just a few of the many D.C. events planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Beginning on July 16, Neil Armstrong’s historic Apollo 11 spacesuit will go on view for the first time in 13 years, and from July 18 through July 20, the Air and Space Museum and NASA will host an Apollo 50 Festival on the National Mall. On July 20, the exact anniversary of the historic event, the National Symphony Orchestra and NASA will host a Kennedy Center concert event featuring appearances by artists including Pharrell Williams and Natasha Bedingfield. That same night, the museum will host a late-night celebration boasting trivia competitions, a special countdown to 10:56 p.m.—the time Armstrong first set foot on the moon—and a spacesuit fashion show.