For the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, space enthusiasts are turning the Washington Monument into a life-size image of a Saturn V rocket, the Rose Bowl Stadium into the setting for an immersive moon voyage, and, if all goes as planned, Times Square into a makeshift Tranquility Base.
In a hundred different ways this week, people nationwide celebrated the moon voyage that climaxed on July 20, 1969, when Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed and walked on another world. Festivities ranged from reunions of Apollo-era NASA employees to lunar-themed $1,000-a-ticket galas. There are museum exhibits, documentary showings, television specials, scholarly lectures, art exhibitions and auctions of rare space memorabilia.
There was an astronaut-themed pub crawl in Cocoa Beach, Fla., the unveiling of a statue of Neil Armstrong in Wapakoneta, Ohio, and an Apollo “Splashdown 50 Celebration” in Alameda, Calif. Festivities are set to peak on Saturday with a re-creation of the moon landing at the Hayden Planetarium of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a musical tribute by the National Symphony Orchestra at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Amid so many events, Apollo 9 astronaut Russell “Rusty” Schweickart, now 84, found a moment for reflection.
“To me, the real importance of this anniversary is the overall reality of human beings first stepping off planet Earth into the cosmos; not in imagination, not via a robotic spacecraft, but human beings moving through the birth canal of mother Earth and into the universe,” Mr. Schweickart said. “That is a historic moment that will be remembered for a thousand years.”
As the lunar module pilot during Apollo 16 in 1972, Charlie Duke, now 83, was the youngest person to ever walk on the moon. “What’s the right way to observe this 50th anniversary?” he said. “With pride.”
Mr. Duke has no trouble remembering where he was 50 years ago when Apollo 11 landed on the Sea of Tranquility. He was the designated “Capcom” at NASA Mission Control in Houston, the only person permitted to talk directly to the astronauts. “I think I was more tense in Mission Control during Apollo 11 than I was actually landing on the moon during Apollo 16,” he said.
On Monday, the Indian Space Research Organization plans to launch a $142 million Chandrayaan-2 mission to the moon. Its unmanned spacecraft includes a lunar lander and a small rover. China landed the first probe on the far side of the moon earlier this year and plans a mission next year to collect lunar samples for return to Earth. Commercial launch firms, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin LLC, have lunar ambitions as well.
For its part, NASA this week vowed to land people on the moon again by 2024, including the first woman to walk on the moon. “Having a woman astronaut on the moon is something that is long overdue,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
The week’s festivities launched in Huntsville, Ala., where NASA developed the Saturn V rocket that carried the Apollo 11 astronauts into space. There, student campers and hobbyists at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center on Monday set off almost 5,000 model rockets simultaneously, hoping for an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.
On Tuesday in Florida, Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins returned to Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to mark the precise moment—9:32 a.m. on July 16, 1969—that the Saturn V rocket blasted off for the moon. About 100 of NASA’s flight controllers and mission managers who handled the launch had a reunion in the firing room.
“We, crew, felt the weight of the world on our shoulders. We knew that everyone would be looking at us, friend or foe, and we wanted to do the best we possibly could,” Mr. Collins said.
That evening, partygoers dined with veteran Apollo astronauts under the shadow of a Saturn V, now among the exhibits at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, at a fundraiser organized by the Aldrin Family Foundation. On the other side of the country at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, Mr. Aldrin had celebrated the anniversary moon launch at a separate fundraising dinner held under the wings of the late president’s retired Air Force One.
An avalanche of Apollo-related space memorabilia went on the auction block this week.
On Thursday, Christie’s put up for sale the manual used by Neil Armstrong and Mr. Aldrin during their historic lunar landing. The 43-page book of procedures contains notes handwritten by Mr. Aldrin within moments of landing. On Saturday, Sotheby’s plans to sell the only surviving, first-generation video recordings of the historic Apollo 11 moonwalk.
At Heritage Auctions, the family of Mr. Armstrong has a lifetime of possessions up for bids—including American flags flown aboard Apollo 11, flight medallions, photographs and a crayon drawing that Mr. Armstrong made in first grade.
Anticipating a day when people and mobile robots travel routinely to the moon, some conservationists want to set aside the Apollo 11 landing site as a protected landmark. Legislation introduced earlier this year in the U.S. Senate would require that all U.S. lunar missions include an agreement to protect the sites where humans first landed on the moon.
“These lunar landing sites commemorate humankind’s greatest technological achievement,” said Michelle Hanlon, a law professor at the University of Mississippi who co-founded For All Moonkind, a nonprofit group that seeks to preserve the sites. “Let’s protect them.”
The Wallstreet Journal