All eyes are on the skies this year for the countdown to July 20, 2019, which marks a half-century since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. The final frontier remains as much of a draw today as it was then. Thanks to technological advances, things are looking up for aspiring astro-tourists who want to plan their own voyage to the cosmos.
When the Russian space agency sent billionaire Guy Laliberté to the International Space Station in 2009, it caused a media sensation. These days, companies such as Space Adventures, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX are speeding ever closer to offering trips that put Earth in the rearview mirror. (Read about otherworldly destinations here on Earth.)
The future may be boundless, but you don’t need your own rocket to celebrate it. The following six centers for space exploration invite you to moon walk without leaving our home planet.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Merritt Island, Florida
With one small step, space pride ignites anew at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The legendary site of the Apollo 11 liftoff offers views of the launch pads, encounters with astronauts, and the chance to join the Astronaut Training Experience, which mimics a mission to Mars with exercises that simulate launching, landing, and space walking. Inside the Lunar Theater, visitors can experience the dramatic moment the Eagle landed, accompanied by actual NASA footage and Mission Control recordings.
Space Center Houston
At Space Center Houston, a tour of the NASA Mission Control Center that monitored the moon landing is a must-have experience. You can also get up-close looks at a Saturn V rocket and watch a virtual Mars sunset. In this summer’s “Journey to Space” exhibition (May 25-September 2), see the gloves Neil Armstrong wore on the Apollo 11 mission, learn about survival in space, and step into an out-of-this-world replica of the International Space Station.
As part of their preparation for the moon landing, Apollo astronauts visited the Lowell Observatory, where Pluto was discovered in 1930. Take a look through the historic Clark Refractor telescope, which has been used to study moons, planets, and comets. The Giovale Open Deck Observatory, a raised plaza featuring several high-tech telescopes, is expected to debut in September 2019.
Museum of Flight
Time travel back to 1969 in the Museum of Flight’s new “Spacequest VR,” a pneumatic platform that simulates the feeling of Apollo 11’s trip to the moon. The roving exhibition “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission” has landed in Seattle for the anniversary (through September 2) and shows off Columbia—the command module and living quarters of the three-person crew—on loan from the Smithsonian Institution. An interactive 3-D tour reveals the surprisingly complex design of the cramped interior.
U.S. Space & Rocket Center
The perfect space-out spot in Rocket City is the new state-of-the-art Intuitive Planetarium at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, where immersive digital shows send visitors soaring through the solar system. On the second Friday of the month, the Cocktails and Cosmos event pairs an astronomy lesson (think exoplanets or black holes) with a heavenly sip. This summer’s events include a Guinness World Record attempt to launch 5,000 model rockets simultaneously on July 16, and the Moon Landing Concert on July 20. The ever-popular Space Camp helps adults and kids fulfill final frontier fantasies.
National Air and Space Museum
Always a treasure trove of high-flying artifacts, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum kicks it up a notch on July 16, when it launches five cosmic-themed days of NASA speakers, kid-friendly activities, and displays including Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, not on view since 2006. On Discover the Moon Day (July 19), staff scientists share their research and the field’s latest findings. At the museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, near Dulles International Airport, take your inner astronaut on a ride simulator to experience the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope or explore the black hole in the middle of the Milky Way Galaxy.
Kimberley Lovato is a writer based in San Francisco and southern France. Follow her travels on Twitter at @kimberleylovato.