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A Cross-Country Guide to Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing

It’s been half a century since humankind touched down on the surface of the moon, and we’re not done praising the feat

The Museum of the Moon is just one of many events taking place across the United States celebrating the 50th anniversary of landing on the moon. (Courtesy Museum of the Moon)
smithsonian.com

On July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered the now famous words, “It’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Now, 50 years later, those powerful words continue to inspire millions and serve as a reminder of the leaps and bounds humans can make with a little perseverance—plus a boost from technology. To commemorate the Apollo 11 mission and the landing on the moon, cities around the United States are holding a variety of events this summer to coincide with the anniversary, from exhibitions to rocket launches to parades.

Here at the Smithsonian, the National Air and Space Museum is offering events commemorating the lunar landing all year long, including the displaying of Neil Armstrong’s iconic spacesuit for the first time in 13 years after undergoing a full restoration, along with a monthly lecture series focused on the moon. The festivities reach a pinnacle in July when the museum hosts its Discover the Moon Day on July 19, a free event that invites visitors to take a 3D tour of the moon, interact with museum scientists about lunar research and missions, and more. On July 20, the museum will stay open until 2 am!

(For more information, read our previous coverage.)

Here’s everything you need to know to plan your own mission around the country.

Corning Museum of Glass; Corning, New York

June 29 through January 31, 2020

A glass astronaut by glassmaker Catherine Ayers. (Courtesy Corning Museum of Glass)

A trip to the moon would likely not have happened if it wasn’t for glass. From the development of telescopes to the construction of the Apollo Lunar Module that shuttled astronauts safely to the moon, glass played an integral role in many aspects of astronomy, and a new exhibition, “Journey to the Moon: How Glass Got Us There,” at the Corning Museum of Glass celebrates these many accomplishments. Highlights include a window constructed by Corning that was part of Gemini, a NASA spacecraft that completed multiple space missions during the 1960s; a lunar meteorite comprised of glassy components; and a moonwalk montage that reveals how glass on TV screens helped project the lunar mission to living rooms back here on Earth.

Johnson Space Center; Houston, Texas

July 16-24

Apollo 17 Command Module named America (Courtesy Space Center Houston)

Houston has a long and storied history when it comes to spaceflight. Case in point: astronaut Neil Armstrong relayed the now famous message, “Houston, the Eagle has landed,” when Apollo 11 touched down on the moon, to the city's Johnson Space Center. Houston is also home to the nearby Space Center Houston, a nonprofit science and space exploration learning center and Smithsonian affiliate that houses a number of important space mission artifacts, like the Apollo Mission Control Center and Lunar Module LTA-8. For one week in July, the center will be offering a lineup of special events celebrating the moon landing, including behind-the-scenes NASA Tram Tours that take visitors to places onsite that you can't otherwise see, like astronaut training facilities; panel discussions with Apollo-era flight controllers; and Apollo 11-themed pop-up science labs geared toward kids.

Apollo/Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center; Merritt Island, Florida

July 15-16

Apollo Saturn V display at Kennedy Space Center (Courtesy Kennedy Space Center)

On July 15, Kennedy Space Center will relaunch its Apollo/Saturn V Center with a lineup of interactive exhibits that will include projection mapping on the side of the Saturn V rocket and a replica 1969-period living room where an American family could have watched astronauts take their first steps on the moon, bringing the Apollo 11 mission to life. On July 16, the center will reprise its famed launch sequence of Apollo 11 in real time with a "flashback" event that showcases original footage captured from that pivotal day, bringing a dose of nostalgia to those who lived it and a new experience for those who weren’t yet alive.

U.S. Space and Rocket Center; Huntsville, Alabama

Now through December 31

The National Historic Landmark Saturn V moon rocket at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. (Courtesy U.S. Space & Rocket Center)

The Space Race was a turbulent time for the United States and the Soviet Union, as the two Cold War rivals competed to become the first to reach outer space. “Apollo: When We Went to the Moon” outlines this competition in space exploration with an ongoing schedule of activities at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, another Smithsonian affiliate. The lineup includes an exhibition of artifacts and memorabilia, such as newspaper clippings and spacesuits worn by astronauts from that era of space flight, and a Guinness World Records attempt (on July 16) to simultaneously launch 5,000 model rockets into the sky.

The Museum of Flight; Seattle, Washington

Now through September 2

A glimpse of the Apollo 11 command module. (Courtesy Museum of Flight)

Seattle is the latest city to host “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission,” an ongoing traveling exhibition developed by Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). On display now through September 2 at the Smithsonian affiliate The Museum of Flight, the exhibition features more than 20 one-of-a-kind artifacts from the mission, including the lunar module and the only known remains of the rocket engines used to propel Apollo 11 to the moon. In addition to the exhibition, the museum will host a three-day festival beginning July 20 that features a Lunar Block Party designed to blast visitors back to 1969, along with a live production of “Stephen Edwards’ Moon Landing, the Musical," a drama that showcases the human side of space exploration.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York City

July 3-September 22

Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon near a leg of the Lunar Module, 1969, printed later. (Neil Armstrong)

The Met takes a different tack in its celebration of the landing on the moon with “Apollo’s Muse: The Moon in the Age of Photography,” a visual survey of how the moon has been depicted by artists and photographers over the last three centuries. The extensive collection features more than 170 photographs along with prints, paintings, films, astronomical instruments and cameras used by astronauts in outer space. Notable pieces include images by lunar photography pioneers Warren De La Rue and Lewis Morris Rutherfurd and a photo atlas of the moon produced by the Paris Observatory between 1894 and 1908.

Museum of the Moon, multiple cities and dates

The Museum of the Moon is a touring exhibition with stops around the world, including this cathedral in Leeds. (Carolyn Eaton)

The Museum of the Moon is a touring art installation that replicates the moon on a scale of 1:500,000. UK-based artist Luke Jerram projects NASA imagery, revealing every nook and cranny of the moon’s surface, onto an internally lit 23-foot diameter sphere, with each centimeter representing 5 kilometers of the moon. "I hope the project restores a sense of wonder, inspires questions and reconnects people with the night sky," Jerram said in an article in India Today. Although most of the tour dates occur in Europe, the exhibition has stops in the United States, with events in Houston, Boston, Minnesota, Milwaukee and Rhode Island.

National Gallery of Art; Washington, D.C.

July 14-January 5, 2020

John Payson Soule, "Full Moon," 1863, stereoscopic albumen print (National Gallery of Art, Washington, gift of Mary and Dan Solomon)

The first photographs of the moon’s surface were developed in the 1850s. Before that the only way to view the moon was through telescopes or with the naked eye. This advancement in technology gave astronomers the ability to study the moon’s surface in ways that they would never have imagined. “By the Light of the Moon: A Century of Lunar Photographs to Apollo 11” is an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art that features nearly 50 photographs from the unmanned Ranger, Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter missions that preluded Apollo 11; glass stereographs taken on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin; press photographs of the Apollo 11 astronauts; and lunar photos dating back to the 19th century.

Summer Moon Festival; Wapakoneta, Ohio

July 12-21

Children's activities are just some of the events planned for this year's Summer Moon Festival. (John Zwez)

Over the course of ten days during the month of July, astronaut Neil Armstrong’s hometown will celebrate his many accomplishments during the Summer Moon Festival. The annual event kicks off with a hot air balloon rally and continues with a parade, model rocket launches, a 1960s-themed dinner at the Armstrong family's church, Wink at the Moon concert, plane tours, the world's largest MoonPie, and more. Astronauts Greg Johnson, Don Thomas and Bob Springer will be in attendance.

Astronaut Parade, Street Party and Pub Crawl; Cocoa Beach, Florida

July 12-13

The Sand Bar Cocoa Beach.jpg
The Sand Bar in Cocoa Beach is a popular spot for locals and tourists along Florida's Space Coast. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Have you ever wanted to rub elbows with astronauts over a pint? Now is your chance. On July 12, astronauts will go on a pub crawl to various watering holes throughout Cocoa Village, part of Florida’s Space Coast. Along the way, there will also be a contest for “Best Space Dressed.” On July 13, astronauts will trade in their rockets for Corvette convertibles during the Astronaut Parade. Don’t be surprised if you see a Lego sculpture of Neil Armstrong in the procession.

About Jennifer Nalewicki

Jennifer Nalewicki is a Brooklyn-based journalist. Her articles have been published in The New York Times, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, United Hemispheres and more. You can find more of her work at her website.

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