On 20 July 2019 it will be 50 years since Apollo 11’s Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon, marking the very first moon landing.

American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to step onto the lunar surface, and Armstrong’s “one small step” has been talked about for decades as one of the most celebrated events of the past century.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the monumental event, a number of destinations across the US will be marking Apollo 11’s achievement with a series of special events. With one-off exhibitions, street parties, moon-themed cocktails and Q&As with real astronauts, space enthusiasts travelling to the US will be inundated with opportunities to learn about this historical mission, and the complexity of the work involved.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, Merritt Island, Florida

Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center

As the departure site for Apollo 11, the Kennedy Space Center, located on Merritt Island, is one of the most important sites for space enthusiasts this year. It is packed with learning opportunities, interactive displays and question sessions that will keep visitors entertained for a whole day.

The main Visitor Complex showcases the history and future of US space travel and research, and is home to the Rocket Garden, where replica rockets tower over visitors. It also houses the new Heroes & Legends and the US Astronaut Hall of Fame, where films and exhibitions celebrate and honour the astronauts. At the Astronaut Encounter, visitors get to ask astronauts questions about their lives, training and journeys, while a series of IMAX films give a chance learn about space and our planet through a series of earth footage and astronaut interviews.

Flagstaff, Arizona

The Apollo 11 spacecraft may have lifted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, but much of the training for the mission actually took place in Flagstaff, Arizona. Neil Armstrong and his pilot Buzz Aldrin, along with the 11 other astronauts who have followed in their footsteps, used the area’s volcanic ash fields as an equivalent for lunar landscapes – practising their buggy-driving, geology training and other mission simulations.

As part of a year-long festival celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1969 landing, visitors to Flagstaff can ride in the buggies used in the landing, and see other paraphernalia from the Apollo missions.

Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff Arizona

At Flagstaff’s Lowell Observatory, travellers can look into space through telescopes – this is the place from which Pluto was first spotted – , and attend events such Cosmic Questions and Meet and Astronomer – where all their burning space-related queries will be answered. The observatory is also hosting a year-long series of book signings and readings, while a number of bars and restaurants in the city are embracing the 50th anniversary and putting on moon-themed food and drink specials.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Adults and children will love the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia – the institute was founded in 1824 by Benjamin Franklin, and is one of the world’s best science museums. As well as having a Moon Rock on display that was recovered by Astronaut Dave Scott during the Apollo 15 mission, it is also home to range of incredible attractions, including the Planetarium Hallway, which features eight screens displaying live content from NASA and the institute’s chief astronomer.

The must-see exhibition for space enthusiasts is Space Command. Here, visitors can learn about the moon, construct a Mars rover and then see it travel over rocky terrain and spin a ball into the Gravity Well, to see the force in action. Elsewhere, visitors can touch a meteorite and learn about the planets, including how they are impacted by the sun.

Houston, Texas

Apollo Mission Control Center at Nasa Johnson Space Center
Nasa Johnson Space Center, Houston

Houston is home to the Apollo Mission Control Center at Nasa Johnson Space Center. This is the site from which NASA’s team planned and carried out human spaceflight missions – achieving the goal of landing a man on the Moon on 20 July 1969, an achievement that meant in 1985 the Historic Mission Control was named to the National Register of Historical Places.

To celebrate the anniversary, the Space Center, along with a community of backers from around the world, are working to restore Mission Control, to accurately portray how the area looked when the landing took place on 20 July 1969. The restoration of Mission Control will feature authentic consoles used to monitor all Apollo Moon Missions, including the famous moon landing of Apollo, and the emergency of Apollo 13, along with small details, like the team members of the controllers putting out their celebratory cigars.

Chantilly, Virginia

Approximately 25 miles west of Washington DC is the small city of Chantilly. The main draw here is the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center – a vast space that’s three times the size of DC’s National Air and Space Smithsonian Museum. The major attractions include the SR-71 (the fastest jet in the world) and the Space Shuttle Discovery, but there’s plenty more to see and do. Visitors may choose to hang out in the observation tower to watch the planes take off and land at Dulles airport, go in a simulator to recreate the feeling of piloting a jet, take a spacewalk or watch shows at the on-site Airbus IMAX Theater.

A number of exhibitions will also appeal to space enthusiasts, these include the Space Science exhibition, which showcases objects flown in the atmosphere or space, such as satellites, orbiters and space probes. Meanwhile, the Human Spaceflight exhibition celebrates the 500 men and women that have flown in space since the first venture into space by Yuri Gagarin in 1961. The number of persons who have flown to the Moon and back has now reached 24 – the exhibition celebrates these victories and highlights the ins and outs of their journeys.

Seattle, Washington

The Space Needle, Seattle
The Space Needle, Seattle

Visitors can check out the travelling exhibition Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington, from 13 April – 2 September 2019. This will be the exhibition’s only West Coast appearance, and will be a rare opportunity for people to step back in time, by seeing original Apollo 11-flown objects, including more than 20 one-of-a-kind artefacts from the Smithsonian (many of which were flown on the historic mission), plus dozens of NASA and Russian spaceflight additions from the museum’s renowned collection.

A weekend festival will be held at the museum, during the 20 July 50th anniversary, celebrating the “giant leap” for humanity with a series of interactive events. Elsewhere in the city, the Space Needle, one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks which stretches 184m into the sky, has undergone a 360-degree spacelift. For the first time in half a century, visitors can take in Seattle views from two floors featuring floor-to-ceiling glass windows, while The Loupe level is home to the world’s first and only rotating glass floor.

Huntsville, Alabama

Huntsville shuttle park

Big crowds will descend on Huntsville, Alabama, as the city celebrates the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Dubbed Rocket City, Huntsville is the home of the Marshall Space Flight Center, where scientists worked to develop the spacecrafts which sent astronauts to the moon. During the course of the year, there will be daily reenactments of the moon landing at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center – the largest space museum in the world – culminating with a Guinness World Record attempt on 16 July, the date that Apollo 11 was launched. On this date at 8.32am (the exact time that the rockets ignited in 1969) the center will launch 5,000 rockets into the sky, before a street party in downtown Huntsville.

At other times of the year, visitors to the US Space and Rocket Center can visit the site’s historic shuttle park and rocket park, or visit the world-premiere exhibition, Apollo: When We Went to the Moon. It chronicles the timeline of the Space Race, and is available to see until December 2019. Finally, no visit to the city would be complete without a trip to Space Camp, located in the US Space and Rocket Center. It’s a hands-on chance for both adults and children to experience the training of astronauts.

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