By Patricia Doherty
July 13, 2019
NASA/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Years before many of Travel + Leisure’s readers were born, the first human walked on the moon. Apollo 11 was the first manned mission to land on the lunar surface, and the historic steps were taken by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969. The 50th anniversary of this monumental event is being celebrated this summer throughout the country.

What was the Apollo 11 mission?

The mission was the 11th flight using Apollo equipment, with the goal (set by President John F. Kennedy on May 25, 1961) of a manned lunar landing and safe return to Earth. Apollo 11 launched from Cape Kennedy, Florida on July 16, 1969 carrying commander Neil Armstrong, command module pilot Michael Collins, and lunar module pilot Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.

When did Apollo 11 land on the moon?

After orbiting the moon with Command and Service Module (CSM) Columbia, Lunar Module Eagle detached and landed on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility about 103 hours into the mission. Nearly seven hours later on July 20, 1969, Armstrong stepped onto the moon, and shortly after, Aldrin followed. The EVA (Extravehicular Activity) or Spacewalk lasted about two and a half hours.

About 21 hours later, Lunar Module Eagle ascended and rejoined CSM Columbia. Armstrong and Aldrin, with CSM Pilot Collins, began their return to Earth on July 21. Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 1969 and was successfully recovered by the USS Hornet.

How Can You Celebrate Apollo 11’s 50th Anniversary?

Organizations, museums, and key destinations related to the Apollo 11 Mission are holding events, many year-long, and others focusing on the July anniversary. Here are a few examples:

Seattle, Washington – Museum of Flight

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“Destination Moon,” a two-year tour presented by the National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, will be at the Museum until Sept. 2, 2019. The interactive exhibit includes the actual Command Module Columbia and original Apollo 11 artifacts. This is the last stop on a four-city tour that began at Space Center Houston in 2017 and continued to St. Louis and Pittsburgh before opening in Seattle in April 2019.

Houston, Texas – Space Center

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Events beginning July 16 include tram tours of Apollo Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center, briefings, and hands-on activities for kids. On July 20, an all-day lunar celebration will feature space-themed experiences, speakers, outdoor festival, concert, and late-night tram tours to Rocket Park.

Flagstaff, Arizona – Lowell Observatory; Flagstaff Festival of Science (September 20-29, 2019)

The city is proud of its role in providing astronaut training sites at Cinder Lake and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. In 1963 NASA sent Apollo astronauts for geologic training based on the crater’s resemblance to the moon’s surface. Astronauts viewed the moon and studied its features from Lowell Observatory’s telescope.

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

Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit will be displayed in commemoration of the moon landing while Columbia and Apollo 11’s artifacts are on tour. A completely new permanent gallery, Destination Moon, is scheduled to open in 2022, presenting the story of moon exploration from ancient dreams, through the 1960s and 1970s, and the future.

Merritt Island, Florida – Kennedy Space Center

Events throughout July commemorate the successful Apollo 11 mission with special giveaways and tours of the Apollo launch site. On launch anniversary date of July 16, visitors will receive a set of trading cards with Apollo 11 mission details.

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

Through December 2019, an exhibition, “Apollo: When We Went to the Moon,” will present a timeline from the beginning of the Space Race through the International Space Station program. Panel discussions, reenactments of the moon landing, concerts, a car show, and more will commemorate Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary.

Raleigh, North Carolina – North Carolina Museum of History

On July 20, 2019, the “One Giant Leap Festival” will feature a weightlessness bungee cord simulation, virtual reality lab, demonstrations, crafts, and more. The festival is part of year-long “Lift Off NC: Apollo + Beyond” that recognizes the moon landing with festivals, lunar and star gazing parties, films and documentaries, and musical performances.

Denver, Colorado – Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum

From July 13-20, 2019, Apollopalooza will celebrate the moon landing anniversary with exhibits, seminars, educational activities, and a screening of the "Apollo 11" film.

Wapakoneta, Ohio – Armstrong Air & Space Museum

Neil Armstrong’s hometown will be celebrating the achievement of its native son from July 19-21 during their annual Summer Moon Festival. NASA exhibits, presentations, activities, and races will be part of the commemorative festivities.

Staying in Town? You Can Celebrate Too

PBS will present “A Summer of Space” to include the American Experience six-hour film, Chasing the Moon, along with new science and history programs in commemoration of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Watch for “8 Days: the Journey of Apollo 11” and “Back to the Moon.” Check your local PBS stations for times and dates.

Or learn about Apollo 11 through the NASA website or the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

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