The Washington Monument will transform into a Saturn V rocket, Times Square will turn into Tranquility Base and the "Eagle" will land nightly at the Rose Bowl in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.
More than 250 events spanning all 50 of the United States and countries around the world are set to launch over the next two weeks to mark the half century since Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins made history on the first moon landing mission. From local libraries to renowned public venues, the celebrations include specially-composed concerts, astronaut appearances, multi-day festivals and gala dinners, as well as screenings, statue dedications and even world-record rocket launches.
collectSPACE.com has compiled a calendar of many of the Apollo 11 50th anniversary events but here are some of the highlights.
On Friday (July 5), President Donald Trump signed into law a bill authorizing the use of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the moon landing. The Apollo 50 Festival, hosted by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum and NASA with support from Boeing and Raytheon, will run from July 18 through July 20 — the latter, the 50th anniversary of the landing and moon walk.
The festival stage and 20 tented displays will host hands-on exhibits and activities provided by the space agency, Lego and PBS's "Ready Jet Go!" as well as speakers including astronauts and scientists, Mythbuster Adam Savage and more.
Beginning July 16 — the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch — through July 18, a full-sized, 363-foot-tall (110-meter) Saturn V rocket will be projected onto the east face of the Washington Monument from 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. EDT.
Then, on July 19 and 20, a special 17-minute show, "Apollo 50: Go for the Moon," will combine full-motion projection-mapping artwork on the monument and archival footage on screens on the National Mall to recreate the launch of Apollo 11 and tell the story of the first moon landing.
Between the moon and New York City
On July 20, 1969, the public gathered in New York City's Times Square to witness the first boot prints being made on the lunar surface. Fifty years later, the moon is coming to Manhattan in the form of a boot print made by the people.
Artist Helen Marshall of The People's Picture will debut her giant, floor-based mosaic of a moon boot print populated with the photos of people from around the world as part of a multimedia celebration of the first moon landing. The July 20 event, which promises to bring Tranquility Base to Times Square, will also feature video from the historic moon landing on some of the Square's iconic digital screens.
"Our goal is to recapture that spirit and give thousands the opportunity to put themselves in the place where only 12 men have gone before and to share this historic moment, just like people did 50 years ago," Andrew Aldrin, son of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and president of the Aldrin Family Foundation, a partner in the People's Moon event, said in a statement.
"Through this celebration, we hope to inspire today's generation, give them hope for the future like Apollo did for generations before, and help them realize that their own 'giant leap' is right within their grasp," said Aldrin.
At the same time that the moon landing video is playing in Times Square, it will also appear on screens on London on the Lights in Piccadilly Circus in the U.K. and at the Art Science Museum in Marina Bay in Singapore. Some of the people's photos from Marshall's mosaic will also make their way to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida as a permanent digital display.
Staging the moon landing
The Apollo 11 mission launches from Earth and lands on the moon nightly in a $15 million stage show that is now at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
Performed inside the 1,600-seat "Lunar Dome," the Apollo 11 Immersive Live Show features 40,000 square feet (3,700 square meters) of 360-degree video and a full-size replica of the "Eagle" lunar module that brings the events from 50 years ago to life.
"A lot of people know the story of Apollo 11, they know that three men went to the moon and two of them walked on the moon. What we're hoping to do is expand on that story and tell what is essentially the untold story of what it took to get that flight to the moon," said director Scott Faris in a statement. "This show is not like a movie at all. It is an original story, presented in a custom-built space, with a full cast, state-of-the-art projections and the most dramatic tale you have ever seen."
"From the moment the audience walks in, they are transported to another world," said Faris.
The Apollo 11 Immersive Live Show is at the Rose Bowl through Aug. 11, before moving to Costa Mesa and then Houston, as the start of a planned three-year tour.
Model rockets, Moon Pies and more
Other standout events celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 include:
- On July 16, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will launch 5,000 Estes model rockets at the exact time as the Apollo 11 lift off, 9:32 a.m. EDT, in an attempt to set a new Guinness World Record.
- The U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida and Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio will be among the venues vying to make the world's largest Moon Pie.
- The Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., is hosting a one-night-only concert with the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Pops. "One Small Step, One Giant Leap" will be hosted by Meredith Vieira and Adam Savage with appearances by Pharrell Williams, LeVar Burton, Natasha Bedingfield and Mark Armstrong, the son of the late Apollo 11 commander. The July 20 event will include a new NSO-commission by Michael Giacchino timed down to the minute of Neil Armstrong's first step onto the moon.
- Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is hosting a concert with Duran Duran on July 16. Space Center Houston, the visitor center for NASA's Johnson Space Center, will host a concert with Walk the Moon and Phillip Phillips on July 20. The Museum of Flight in Seattle will host a concert with American Idol winner Laine Hardy, runner-up Alejandro Aranda and the 2019 finalists also on July 20.
- Buzz Aldrin will host a gala dinner at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on July 13. The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and Aldrin Family Foundation will host a gala dinner at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on July 16. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center will also host an astronaut-studded gala dinner on July 16.
- Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins will reunite at the launch pad where their Apollo 11 mission began for a question-and-answer session with Kennedy Space Center director Bob Cabana on July 16. The 9:15 a.m. EDT event will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website.
Click through to collectSPACE for the full Apollo 11 50th Anniversary event calendar.
- NASA's Historic Apollo 11 Moon Landing in Pictures
- Reading Apollo 11: The Best New Books About the US Moon Landings
- How NASA's Apollo Astronauts Went to the Moon
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.