WASHINGTON – To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 that sent astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin to the moon, NASA programmed several events from July 16-20 around the country to celebrate the mission.
Apollo 11 was the first spaceflight that landed humans on the moon, a feat that has only been accomplished in five other NASA missions. It left the planet on July 16, 1969, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and on July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin took the first steps on the moon. The mission lasted eight days as they returned on July 24.
“But, as we look at the Apollo program this year and consider the sweep of NASA history, I think it is clear that these sorts of successes rest on the dedication of an amazing workforce,” NASA Chief Historian William P. Barry said. “You’ll pardon my pride at having the chance to be involved in chronicling the history of these amazing people for future generations.”
During the evenings of July 16 to July 20, the National Mall in Washington, D.C. turned to a mini-space station with as a full-sized, 363-foot Saturn V rocket that projected onto the east face of the Washington Monument. On July 19 and July 20, a 17-minute show called “Apollo 50: Go for the Moon” would play on the Monument itself, showing a recreation of the launch of the spaceflight and the mission.
According to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the Department of the Interior and 59 Productions worked to have Congress approve the evening show as a “one-time series” and partnered up with Smithsonian to add more events surrounding the Mall.
“The Washington Monument is a symbol of our collective national achievements and what we can and will achieve in the future,” said Ellen Stofan, John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Air and Space Museum. “It took 400,000 people from across the 50 states to make Apollo a reality. This program celebrates them, and we hope it inspires generations too young to have experienced Apollo firsthand to define their own moonshot.”
Bowie resident Kristian Wilson watched the program late into the night on July 19 with her two daughters. She said that while her children thought they would see a real rocket to the moon, everyone enjoyed themselves and learned more about the history of the mission through the projections.
“I was not alive (to see it), but it is exciting to see all of this,” Wilson said. “I’ve never seen anything done like this, so we thought it was cool.”
The National Air and Space Museum hosted several events in and out of their facility with NASA, but all the attention went to Armstrong’s spacesuit being on display for the first time in 13 years.
According to the Smithsonian, a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 helped pay for a state-of-the-art display case and mannequin to bring the suit back on display. It is located near the Wright Brothers Flyer until its future home, the “Destination Moon” exhibition, opens in 2022.
Jack Finnegan of New Jersey took an interest in space from an early age. Coming to the Mall for the celebration was a “treat” and allowed him to see the spacesuit in person, reeducate himself on the Apollo mission and learn more about future flights to space, including going to Mars.
“I am so glad that they were able to restore (Armstrong’s Spacesuit) and put it on display,” Finnegan said. “Being able to achieve these things shows the resolve of the American Spirit and how it also brought humanity together; it wasn’t just an American accomplishment…it was such a human event.”
In Maryland, NASA continued celebrating the anniversary at the visitors center of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. Throughout the week, visitors were able to access 11,000 hours of mission control audio, 2,000 photographs and onboard recorder audio was all synced to the mission time from 50 years ago.
Guests were also able to see how the crew prepared for the trip and other related video content in the visitors center’s new theater. Their events concluded on July 20 with their monthly rocket contest with a twist as contestants attempt to land their model rocket nearest the center of a “moon” drawn on the ground. First 200 registrants received free commemorative “moon landing” items while the winners received trophies and model rocket kit prizes as well.
The week’s long events ended with Vice President Mike Pence visiting the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to commemorate the anniversary and to announce the completion of the capsule for the first lunar mission in years.
Known as Artemis 1, it will be launched by an Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket around the moon as it studies ways for landing the next set of human beings on the moon in the future. The mission is expected to begin in 2020 while Artemis 2, the planned astronaut crew mission, is still scheduled for liftoff in 2023.
“Similar to the 1960s, we too have an opportunity to take a giant leap forward for all of humanity,” said Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “President (Donald) Trump and Vice President Pence have given us a bold direction to return to the moon by 2024 and then go forward to Mars.”