Where to Celebrate the Moon Landing's 50th Anniversary

The top space centers in the U.S. are commemorating the July 20 Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary with new exhibits, theme parties and key speakers.

Photo By: U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Photo By: NASA

Photo By: Smithsonian Institution

Photo By: Kennedy Space Center

Photo By: Ray Viator Photography

Photo By: Kansas Tourism

Photo By: The Museum of Flight

Photo By: Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum

Photo By: USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum

Photo By: Jim Marquardt

U.S. Space & Rocket Center, AL

Huntsville plays an important part in the Apollo story since the Saturn V rocket, key for getting the Apollo 11 crew to the moon, came from Huntsville’s Marshall Space Flight Center. In honor of the 50th anniversary, the Smithsonian-affiliated U.S. Space & Rocket Center added the new exhibit, "Apollo: When We Went to the Moon." On display through December, the show charts the period between the Space Race and the International Space Station. Complementing the exhibit will be daily moon landing re-enactments; model rockets decorated by local community members and a Guinness World Record attempt to launch the most rockets at a time (5,000 to be exact). The rocket-happy city is also inviting the public to launch their own model rockets on July 16.

Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, CO

Join the rest of the cool space kids at ApolloPalooza, going down at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum. Tickets are now on sale for a screening of the Apollo 11 movie; a 1969-themed viewing party; a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) festival for kids and more. Anticipate tickets to sell out for opening night, when Harrison Schmitt, a former astronaut with Apollo 17 (pictured) will be recounting his memories. Other notable speakers will also be delivering presentations during the week, including Gene Kranz, Apollo 11’s flight director.

National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

Of course the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum is the pack leader for the anniversary happenings. On July 16, the museum will display Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 spacesuit for the first time in 13 years — this is actually the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign to conserve said spacesuit. The unveiling will be followed by a three-day bash on the National Mall, topped off with a finale of activities lasting until 2 a.m. on July 21.

Kennedy Space Center, FL

The epicenter of all things space, NASA's world-class Kennedy Space Center, from which Apollo 11 departed, and the region itself have a stellar lineup planned. In the week leading up to July 20, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation is hosting the Astronaut Golf Tournament in Orlando, in recognition of Alan Shepard, the first astronaut to "play golf" on the moon. Other events include an astronaut parade in Cocoa Beach; a women in space panel; plus an outdoor concert and gala. There will also be a grand unveiling of the revamped Apollo/Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center, revealing an interactive rocket launcher and virtual reality stations. In addition, expect a real-time replay of the moon launch on July 16, Apollo-themed festivities on July 20 and another party of July 24, marking Apollo 11's return to earth.

Space Center Houston, TX

Besides Cape Canaveral, Houston also plays a pivotal role in the nation's space program. NASA's Johnson Space Center is based here, where it functions as a research, training and operations facility; Space Center Houston is the Smithsonian-affiliated, non-profit visitor center of the Johnson Space Center. In time for the 50th anniversary celebration will be a first look at the restored Apollo Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center, guaranteed to draw huge crowds. Also plan ahead to grab lunch with former Apollo flight controllers; send kids to a three-day Explorer Camp; and attend a jam-packed schedule on July 20 filled with the Golden Knights parachute team, book signings, concerts and presentations. Pop-up science labs and an activity tent for the kids are part of the week-long fun, while the adults get to unwind at the concluding '60s-themed splashdown party.

Cosmosphere, KS

Another Smithsonian affiliate, the Cosmosphere is already celebrating the anniversary with a new, interactive exhibit; Apollo 11 scavenger hunt and Apollo 11: First Steps Edition documentary. The week of, museum-goers can enjoy an Opera Kansas performance of moon-themed songs, and help the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville achieve their Guinness World Record goal of launching 5,000 rockets. (Note that even paper origami rockets count toward this goal.) July 20 is all about family-friendly activities, so kids will have the chance to create their own spacesuit, prepare a moon landing speech and more at the Cosmosphere. The festivities continue that night at Hutchinson Community College, where Cosmosphere employees will be holding science demonstrations, space-related activities and moon-gazing with the help of a 16-inch diameter telescope.

The Museum of Flight, WA

Now at The Museum of Flight, the exhibit "Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission" provides a comprehensive look at the origins of the space program, the space race, and of course, the historic Apollo 11 mission. The traveling Smithsonian Institute collection encompasses more than 20 objects from that mission, with the original command module, Columbia, as the main attraction. This is of particular note since Columbia hasn't left the National Air and Space Museum since 1976. Oh, and Seattle is the only West Coast stop on the two-year tour. The Museum of Flight, itself one of the largest air and space museums in the U.S., rounds out the exhibit with its own collection, not limited to a rare Soviet Sputnik satellite. In addition to moon-related presentations held during the exhibit’s run, plan accordingly to attend the Lunar Block party (July 19-21) as it promises live music, activities and special events.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, NY

An Apollo 11 installation featuring archival news footage is currently on view at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, along with a daily 20-minute presentation about the moon landing. Apollo 11 will be shown on June 21 from Intrepid's massive flight deck, but come July 19, the action ramps up with NASA speakers, planetarium shows and stargazing, followed by a screening of First Man at Pier 86. For something completely different, Intrepid is marking July 20 by hosting famed improv group Upright Citizens Brigade: former astronaut Mike Massimino and NASA scientist Noah Petro will be among the night’s entertainment.

The USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, CA

Not to be outdone, the USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum is celebrating throughout the year as part of its Splashdown 50th Anniversary. (The name stems from the fact that the USS Hornet retrieved the Apollo 11 astronauts after the ship splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.) The main events start the week leading up to July 20: there’s the chance to overnight onboard for stargazing, complete with dinner and breakfast; build and test model rockets; get a behind-the-scenes tour of the updated Apollo exhibit and watch space films. Former Hornet crew members, astronauts and NASA scientists will also join the festivities.

Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum, OH

If Neil Armstrong hadn’t become the first person to walk on the moon, tiny Wapakoneta in northern Ohio would likely remain unknown to most. But as it happens to be Armstrong’s hometown, it attracts the space set to the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum. Here you can study Armstrong’s spacesuits, examine a moon rock and marvel at the actual Gemini VIII spacecraft. The Summer Moon Festival will be celebrating the 50th anniversary with a week full of Moon Pie eating contests, rocket launches, astronaut presentations and a brand-new Neil Armstrong statue.

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