Apollo Spirit

Grab your piece of the moon rock.
By Lisa TE Sonne

Celebrations across America this summer will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first humans on the moon (July 20-21, 1969). A slumber party under a Saturn V, the world's largest moon pie and a lifesize astronaut carved out of cheese will add fun to festivities. Real astronauts, rockets and moon rocks will also enhance parties and forums at museums, planetariums, space centers and even an aircraft carrier.

"I grew up during the Apollo era and was clearly inspired by its many missions to space and the moon," says Texan Richard Garriott, who was motivated to travel to outer space in 2008 as the sixth private citizen-explorer.

How inspired are you to hit the road and explore the spirit of Apollo? Are you ready to take your own small steps, or even a giant leap for all moonkind?

The actual Apollo 11 Command module and a piece of the moon to touch are at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. A reunion of Moonwalkers Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin along with Command Module Pilot Michael Collins, taking place July 19,will be broadcast on NASA television.

The National Air and Space Museum will premiere Alan Bean: Painting Apollo, First Artist On Another World at the Museum on the National Mall July 16, 2009, through January 13, 2010, in conjunction with the 40th Anniversary of the first Apollo Moon landings.

You can add some joy to a good vacation by controlling the joystick and throttle in an Apollo Moon Landing Simulator at the Virginia Air and Space Museum in Langley. Daily science demonstrations, July 12-20, will include touching authentic moon rock and trying on a space suit. But wait! There's more. The first 500 visitors get edible Moon Pies.

Kennedy Space Center in Florida is home of the largest rockets in the world – giant Saturn V rockets like those that lifted the Apollos to the moon. July 20-24, there will also be all-night sleep-unders, as campers dream under a real Saturn V rocket (when they aren't playing an Apollo-themed scavenger hunt).

How do rocket-building, a Tang recipe contest and the "World's Largest Moon Pie" sound for family space fare? Wapakoneta, Ohio, home of the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, has all that and moon movie shows, a special church moon-walk service and the cheesiest of all U.S. events – nationally recognized cheese sculptor Sarah Kaufmann will carve a full-size astronaut out of – you guessed it – cheese.

Dayton, Ohio, (the self-described "Birthplace of Flight") will present 12 of the living Apollo astronauts on July 17, according to Ron Kaplan, the executive director of the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Several events will be open to the public, including the awards ceremony known as the "Oscar Night of Aviation," July 18.

Radio-controlled robots are part of the fun at the Omaha Science Fiction Education Society Convention in Nebraska. This year, it's scheduled for July 17-19 to celebrate the fantastic nonfiction of Apollo 11. There will even be a panel on the State of Space Exploration.

California is making a splash with The Splashdown, July 24-26, aboard the actual Apollo 11 recovery ship now in Alameda Bay, the U.S.S. Hornet. Nearby, the Ames Research Institute is preparing for serious forums about space travel and a seriously fun "Moonfest Party."

If you are still hankering to honor historic spacefaring in August, head to the heartland of Kansas to visit the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. And bring a telescope if you are there on August 21. To cap off the "Summer of Apollo" and celebrate the "Year of Astronomy," there's going to be a giant telescope party to check out the stars.

Regardless of how you pay homage this summer to the footsteps on the moon, a man who made them says it's less about remembering the past than about looking forward to greater things to come.

"We can all look back on what we accomplished during the Apollo days with great pride," says Buzz Aldrin, 40 years after he walked on the moon. "It was an extraordinary time, and I am grateful to have played a role in pioneering the space frontier. But I hope our true legacy will be inspiring the next generation to follow in our footsteps, and reach for even bolder goals and destinations in space.

"Exploring space is among the most important things we do as a people. I hope, 40 years after Neil, Mike and I left Earth for the moon, remembering our flight will help us continue the journey."

Photo credits: Apollo 11 Capsule: Photo by Eric Long/NASM, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
First Men – Buzz Aldrin: Painting by Alan Bean based on the historic photograph of Buzz Aldrin by Neil Armstrong.
First Men – Neil Armstrong: Painting by Alan Bean. Courtesy of National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Apollo 11 Prime Crew: Courtesy NASA/Johnson Space Center
Aldrin Looks Back at Tranquility Base: Photo by Neil Armstrong. Courtesy NASA/Johnson Space Center

The information in this story was accurate when it was published on the AAA World Web site in July 2009, but details such as dates, times and prices may have changed since then. We suggest you verify such details directly with the listed establishments before making travel plans.