July 20th marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon landing in 1969 – a feat which would be as remarkable today as it was back then. Many of the sites around the world which played a part in this achievement of human engineering, against the backdrop of the Cold War, are celebrating the anniversary with special events. Here’s six of those locations – five in the US and one in Australia – which will be worth a visit in the weeks ahead.
Kennedy Space Center (1 Hour from Orlando, Florida)
It’s no question in my mind that the world’s best space-related experience is to be had at the site of the launch of Apollo 11 itself: Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA have done an incredible job of providing an educational and awe-inspiring experience, from interactive exhibitions, to regular film screenings and talks from astronauts (some of whom you may just find hanging around the rockets) – and of course the Space Shuttle Atlantis being put powerfully on display.
Outside the exhibition space, you jump on a bus and get to see – albeit from a distance, and among many other historic sites – Launch Pad 39A, where Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lifted off on 16th July 1969 for the Apollo 11 mission. And unsurprisingly, it’s here where one of the biggest 50th Anniversary events will be taking place.
On 16th July, Apollo 11 astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins will reunite at the historic launch pad for a question-and-answer session with Kennedy Center Director Bob Cabana, beginning at 9:15 a.m. EDT, followed by a visit the Launch Control Center and Firing Room 1 to connect with Apollo-era launch controllers and those who will launch the Artemis missions that are part of America’s Moon to Mars approach for human space exploration. This event won’t be open to the public, but it will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.
What will be open to the public is a “Flashback Event” at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. You can see more details about that HERE. There’ll also be a concert with Duran Duran!
You’ll find more details about the 50th Anniversary festivities HERE.
Lowell Observatory (Flagstaff, Arizona)
About two hours north of Phoenix, Arizona is the town of Flagstaff, whose part in the Apollo 11 story is not often told. You see, every single astronaut who participated in the Apollo program trained in Flagstaff – and in particular at the Lowell Observatory, which at 7,250 feet in elevation, is where Arizona’s 50th Anniversary celebrations will be taking place. It’s also the place where they discovered Pluto.
The whole area of Flagstaff has a number of sites that relate to space exploration and the moon landing, with the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument (about 30 minutes north of the city) and the Cinder Lake Crater Field among the many astronaut training sites in the area. You’ll also find the training rover exhibit – as these were the areas the Apollo 16 astronauts trained to drive the moon rover – at the U.S. Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center.
There will be a number of events at the Lowell Observatory on 20th July, and for more details you can head HERE. This will kick off a year long celebration they’re calling the “Lunar Legacy”. This includes the Flagstaff Festival of Science in September, when you’ll be able to see Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke in person on 20th September (head HERE for details on that one).
NASA Johnson Space Center (Houston, Texas)
While the missions set off from Florida, it was Mission Control in Houston that communicated with the astronauts. And in celebration of the golden anniversary of the first landing, the Apollo Mission Control Center at Johnson has been restored to appear as it did in that era, ready to begin its new life as a source of learning and inspiration. Visitors to NASA can experience the restored control room as part of regular tours provided by Space Center Houston.
Since opening in 1992, the Space Center Houston has seen more than 17 million people pass through its gates. Its main mission is to provide a fun and engaging educational experience on the subject of space exploration. The center itself features more than 400 space artifacts as well as numerous permanent and travelling exhibits.
It’s a 45 minute drive to the Space Center from Downtown Houston. To find out more about the center and their 50th anniversary activities, head to: http://spacecenter.org/.
CSIRO Parkes Observatory (Parkes, New South Wales, Australia)
Made famous in more recent decades by the film The Dish, Australia’s role in the moon landing can’t be understated, with the satellite dishes in the remote town of Parkes picking up the majority of the signal of the moon landing that was live streamed across the world. Making for not just one of the great moments in the history of mankind (to borrow the famous phrase), but also a pivotal moment in the history of television.
On 12.56 PM Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST) on Monday, 21st July 1969, six hundred million people, one sixth of mankind at the time, watched Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon. To commemorate, the Observatory will be holding Open Days on the anniversary weekend of 20-21 July 2019, with telescope tours, special guest speakers promised, a screening of the film The Dish in the field adjacent to the telescope, and more – all free too!
You can get all the details HERE.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (Washington DC)
Arguably the best space museum in the world, the massive Smithsonian in the US capital isn’t taking the 50th anniversary lightly. Already it’s the place you’ll find one of the most important monuments to this moment in history – the command module, “Columbia”, from Apollo 11, that Armstrong, Glenn and Collins returned to Earth in.
From the 18th to the 20th of July, the museum will be hosting the Apollo 50 Festival, a free three-day event on the National Mall in Washington. The event will include exhibits, speakers, demonstrations and a host of fun activities for the entire family. NASA researchers, scientists and engineers will showcase NASA’s newest technologies and innovations that will take us forward to the Moon and on to Mars. Festival hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT July 18 and 19, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. July 20. For more information, head HERE.
US Space and Rocket Centre (Huntsville, Alabama)
Well this one is just a bit of a fun one to add to the list.
At 8:32 a.m. CDT – the same time as the Apollo 11 mission lifted off – the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the official visitor center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in Huntsville, Alabama, will host a Guinness Book of World Records attempt for most model rockets launched simultaneously from a single location. On the same day, the Apollo 50th Global Rocket Launch, a 24-hour challenge, will be held in conjunction with partners launching around the world. Head HERE for more details.
For more information about NASA’s Apollo 11 mission and a list of other events taking place, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/specials/apollo50th/
Delta flies daily between the United States and Australia, in partnership with Virgin Australia.
Support for this article was provided by the Kennedy Space Centre, Flagstaff Tourism and Texas Tourism. While in Flagstaff we stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton. While in Orlando we stayed at the Wyndham Grand. Headline photo courtesy of NASA. Some of the copy from Houston taken from Johnny Au’s original article on his visit.