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Marking a milestone: Where to celebrate this summer's 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing

Beth J. Harpaz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Travel News

It was a monumental achievement that enthralled people around the world: On July 20, 1969, astronauts walked on the moon.

Fifty years later, that spellbinding milestone is being honored with events across the country. Central to the celebrations are places tied to the mission: Florida's "Space Coast," where the historic Apollo 11 expedition was launched; Huntsville, Ala., where the Saturn V rocket that powered the spaceflight was built; and Houston, headquarters for mission control.

"Many Americans today take man's landing on the moon for granted," said Pauline Frommer, editorial director for Frommer's guidebooks. "In reality, it was a signature achievement for the United States -- a massive, complex, dangerous undertaking."

But there's no need to leave planet Earth to enjoy the anniversary. Here are some places offering space-themed attractions and Apollo 11 fun.

Among the first words uttered from the moon was the name of this Texas city. "Houston, Tranquility Base here," said astronaut Neil Armstrong. "The Eagle has landed." No wonder Houston is going all-out to honor the anniversary with programs, parties and packages, including a blow-out July 20 event at Space Center Houston.

Ongoing attractions at the Space Center include exhibits of spacecraft and spacesuits; tours and films; and interactive experiences like "Planet Pioneers," where visitors learn to survive in an alien environment by finding water and oxygen, growing food, building shelter, driving a 4-D vehicle, flying a virtual drone and spinning in a capsule.


Want to see a liftoff in person? A series of rocket launches -- including NASA and SpaceX projects -- are planned for this year. Buy tickets to watch from the Kennedy Space Center, or stake out public viewing sites like U.S. Highway 1 in Titusville along the Indian River or the beaches in Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach. Note that cancellations because of weather or technical issues are common, and that launches take place elsewhere as well.

Huntsville's NASA Marshall Space Flight Center developed the Saturn V launch vehicles for the Apollo moon missions, and it's still home to research, design and operations support centers for space programs.

Huntsville's nickname is Rocket City, and its U.S. Space & Rocket Center will host reenactments of the moon landing, along with a July 16 launch of 5,000 model rockets at 9:32 a.m. Eastern time (8:32 a.m. local time), exactly 50 years after the Apollo 11 launch. Other 50th anniversary events include a street dance party, classic car show featuring 1960s-era vehicles, a beer garden and concerts.

Year-round attractions include rocket-style rides, a new planetarium and the NASA Emeritus Docent program, where visitors meet retired and working engineers. There's a horizontal display of a Saturn V rocket, 363 feet long and a National Historic Landmark, and a vertical display of a replica standing taller than the Statue of Liberty. A new exhibit called "Apollo: When We Went to the Moon" runs through December.


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