Let 'First Man' inspire visits to these space-themed attractions

October 13, 2018, 4:28 PM · If you've not yet bought a ticket to see Damien Chazelle's First Man, please put watching the story of Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong on your "to-do" list. The Academy Award-winning director of La La Land has followed that musical with a much different work, showing the somewhat nerdy and spectacularly brave Armstrong's journey toward becoming the first person to step foot on the Moon. The Gemini launch in the film's second act might be one of the most amazing scenes ever filmed and is worth the admission price by itself.

I'm advocating this movie because I was disappointed that a prime-time screening last night here in Los Angeles was barely one-third full, and with the exception of my film-student son, the audience appeared to include no one who wasn't already alive at the time of the Apollo 11 landing. This is a wonderful film that deserves to be seen by more movie fans. I'm also recommending the film here because it pairs wonderfully with many established theme park and themed entertainment attractions across the country.

The moon landing was one of the defining cultural events of our time, even if the popular memory of mankind's greatest exploratory accomplishment seems to be fading. Heck, the video of Apollo launch used to play at the top of every hour on MTV, searing it into the memory of countless Gen Xers like myself. Today, the legacy of Apollo lives on not just in films such as First Man but in several leading tourist attractions in the United States.

I hope you'll go see First Man. Then I hope you might consider some of these destinations on your next vacation. Next summer will be the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, so it's a perfect opportunity to connect with America's race to the moon.

Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center
Capa Canaveral, Florida

Heading on a Disney Cruise? It's about a 20-minute drive from the Disney Cruise Line's terminal in Port Canaveral to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex next door on Merritt Island. This is the spot from which Apollo 11 blasted off to the moon, as did America's many other manned space missions over the decades. Today, the KSC is one of the nation's leading tourist destinations, with several exhibits and attractions created by teams that have worked on popular attractions at Disney and other theme parks.

The center's bus tour stops at the "Race to the Moon" mission center ("mission centers" are the KSC's themed "lands"), where you can see a Saturn V rocket, the crew capsule from Apollo 14, a moon-worn spacesuit, and a memorial to Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffe, the Apollo 1 crew who died in a training exercise. The exhibits continue through the Space Shuttle era, where thrill fans can simulate blasting into space on the Shuttle Launch Experience ride. Tickets are $57 for adults, $47 for children (ages 3-11)

Mission Space

Mission Space
Epcot, Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Florida

Sure, this one's all for fun, but Epcot's Mission Space is the closest thing to a space flight experience you will find a major theme park. Your destination here is Mars, not the Moon, but the thrills of blasting off and floating in space come with a lesson that it's teamwork — not just bravery — that gets astronauts to their goal.

Space Center Houston
Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas

The home of NASA's Mission Control, the Johnson Space Center is accessible via a tram tour from its official visitors' center. There are actually two Mission Controls on the tour: the historic Mission Control that directed the Apollo missions and the modern Mission Control used for the Space Shuttle. Space Center Houston also houses a variety of Apollo artifacts, including the command module from Apollo 17, the last (most recent?) mission to the Moon. Tickets are $29.95 for adults, $24.95 for kids, and $27.95 for seniors

Lunar Module

National Air and Space Museum
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

The nation's most popular museum is closing its "Apollo to the Moon" gallery on December 3, as the Smithsonian renovates the Air and Space Museum facility on the National Mall. An unused Lunar Module and the Gemini IV capsule remain the museum's Milestones of Flight Hall, but if you want to see the Apollo 11 command module, it's now on tour in Pittsburgh's Senator John Heinz History Center, where it will remain through February 18. After that, it's off to Seattle's Museum of Flight, from March 16 through September 2. Apollo 11's Columbia will return to display at the National Air and Space Museum when its renovated exhibition hall opens in 2021. Admission is free to the National Air and Space Museum.

Replies (16)

October 13, 2018 at 5:09 PM

Wasn't there a Universal attraction that was rumored to be themed for Apollo 13?

October 13, 2018 at 5:54 PM

“The moon landing was one of the defining cultural events of our time, even if the popular memory of mankind's greatest exploratory accomplishment seems to be fading.“

Like when the filmmakers intentionally left off the US flag being planted on the moon’s surface? So I have absolutely no sympathy that the film isn’t so successful because those who are aware of history are plainly insulted and those who don’t care will not see it. Exactly as what has happened.

October 13, 2018 at 6:28 PM

I enjoyed the movie, though it did play fast and loose with a lot of facts along the way. For example, there is no evidence that Armstrong took his daughter's bracelet to the moon and left it there. I also did not care for the final scene, which I thought was too downbeat.
That said, any movie which gives people a chance to think about the miracle of bravery, sacrifice, hard work and determination which was the moon landing is a good thing in my book.
As for the flag controversy, the film clearly shows the American Flag standing on the surface of the moon in several scenes, it just never shows them planting it there. There was no attempt to hide it.

October 13, 2018 at 7:56 PM

The flag thing is yet another ginned-up controversy by lazy, divisive right wing media types. The flag is present in so many shots on the Moon, and national signage is shown prominently on astronaut suits and rockets throughout. This criticism is BS, designed to keep people from seeing the movie.

The ending caught me off guard at first but I’ve grown to love it as pitch perfect symbolism. He's not "Neil Armstrong" anymore. He is now the "First Man" of the title, forever elevated and separated from everyone else by his historical significance.

As for symbolism, that's how I took the bracelet scene, too. The lack of continuity with the other shots on the Moon's surface, coupled with Armstrong's isolation in the shot, tipped it as a symbolic moment, to me.

The film is relentless in portraying verified detail, though. From the timing of missions to technical specs, it might be the most realistic portrayal of space flight yet, even with its moments of cinematic symbolism.

October 13, 2018 at 7:42 PM

BTW: For those planning on visiting the Kennedy Space Center, I highly recommend their Early Space tour. This tour takes you into a restricted area of the cape to visit the original launch pads and mission control rooms for the Mercury flights. You get to go into the mission control rooms and walk around all the sites. It’s amazing how to see how small the mission control centers are and how close they are to their launch pads. The tour also includes a stop at pad 34, the site of the Apollo 1 tragedy, as well as several other historic sites. You will leave with a real sense of history and a much greater understanding of our early space program. Highly recommended.

October 13, 2018 at 8:40 PM

I beg to differ for Ryan Gosling clearly said the moon landing wasn’t an American accomplishment. It was a Global accomplishment. So it wasn’t an Right Wing ginned up controversy.

“Gosling said it was his view that Armstrong's moon walk, "transcended countries and borders," according to quotes featured in U.K.'s Telegraph, reportedly from a press conference at the Venice Film Festival.”

Gosling, who is Canadian and joked he "might have cognitive bias," added: "So I don't think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero. From my interviews with his family and people that knew him, it was quite the opposite. And we wanted the film to reflect Neil."

Seems like the controversy suits him than trying to mollify the critics.

October 14, 2018 at 12:34 PM


We never wouldve come close to getting to the moon if not for Wernhner Von Braun and hundreds of other German engineers recruited after WW2. Of course the achievement is something Nasa and Americans should be proud of, but within proper context.

October 13, 2018 at 10:08 PM

Ah, I brush off the flag "controversy" and nothing major. Now, that there are a lot of folks out there who insist we never landed on the moon at all, do have issues with those morons.

October 14, 2018 at 1:52 AM

The Museum of Flight adjacent to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport is also a first-rate destination related to the U.S. space program, with an exhibit specifically about the history of the Apollo program which opened in 2017.


October 14, 2018 at 11:06 AM

I'd like to suggest the Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutchinson, Kansas, where they have the only surviving module from heroic Apollo 13 saga, the Command Module (callsign “Odyssey”).

It's where the Apollo 13 Flight Manual *should* have gone when it was put up for sale last year (https://mechtraveller.com/2017/07/historic-apollo-13-flight-manual-sale/) does anyone know who bought it?

October 15, 2018 at 7:41 AM

I saw the film last week during a preview screening, but was not prepared for the style and scope of the film since a lot of press had not been released prior to my viewing. Ultimately, First Man left me dissatisfied because it was not the film I was expecting or wanted to see. I had hoped for a more stylistic version of Apollo 13/The Right Stuff given Chazelle's pedigree, but the film is much more of a character study than the love letter to NASA or an inspiration to reignite the space race that I was looking for. There's nothing particularly wrong with the movie, but I was left cold by the movie's final scene along with the amazingly shot moon landing scenes that for some reason lacked the triumphant joy and emotional weight they should hold for all mankind. Instead, First Man was about how workmanlike and zombiefied Ryan Gossling could portray Armstrong and how haphazard and chaotic NASA could be when pushing the envelope to top the Soviets. Despite the ultra high definition pans of the lunar surface and iconic quotes, there was never any feeling of accomplishment or release of tension, just more staring into the emptiness of space and the little blue ball millions of miles away. It's definitely a different take on the era and the event, and if you go into First Man expecting a newer version of Apollo 13 or The Right Stuff, you will come home disappointed like I was.

As far as some of the best space attractions, I would definitely endorse the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. However, be warned that the downtown museum is about to go through a multi-year renovation that will drastically alter what you can see during any given time. The current Apollo exhibit will be one of the first galleries to be renovated, so if you don't visit in the next month or 2, you may not see the lunar rover and other artifacts in a formal setting until 2020 or later (word is that they will move the most popular items, but they will not be displayed with any context). I would instead recommend visiting the Udvar Hazy extension of the Air and Space Museum located near Dulles Airport, located about 30 miles west of DC. The larger, suburban museum has a much more comprehensive collection of spacecraft on display (though absent some of the more iconic vehicles like Spacelab and the lunar rover), but being able to walk right up to an actual Space Shuttle that still has burn marks from re-entry makes it worth the trip alone.

I would also second the Museum of Flight outside of Seattle. The Boeing-sponsored museum is notable because you can actually walk through some of the aircraft on the museum's tarmac, including a 707 that served as one of the original Air Force Ones.

Mission Control in Houston is another underrated attraction. I was really impressed with the level of access and thoroughness of the facility tour. When you walk into the former Apollo Mission Control, you feel like you've stepped onto Ron Howard's movie set, and instantly appreciate the level of detail that he was able to capture in Apollo 13.

I haven't been to the Kennedy Space Flight Center since I was in high school, so I can't really comment on it since I know that the facility is much different now than it was back in the 90's. However, standing next to a fully assembled Saturn V (the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum only has 1 stage of a Saturn V on display) or walking up to the door of the vehicle assembly building can be some of the most awe-inspiring experiences even without any of the attractions that have been added to the facility over the past decade.

October 15, 2018 at 8:23 AM

Don’t forget the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Where they have the first original Space Suttle Trainer that you can walk through. Also it has original Air Force One’s from FDR to Clinton that you can walk through. Very impressive collection and I believe one of the largest. They just got the original Memphis Bell for display. Four large hangers full of originals and some replica planes and artifacts. It’s located in Dayton, Ohio and its also free.

The website is: https://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil

October 15, 2018 at 9:05 AM

Good point Apple Butter. I have not personally been to the Dayton museum, but my parents have, and cannot stop raving about it. I live less than 20 minutes from the Udvar Hazy, so I'm a bit spoiled in that regard - not to mention they have my favorite all-time aircraft on display (SR-71).

October 15, 2018 at 10:23 AM

I haven’t been to the DC area in 20 years. My wife and I are planning a trip there in the future and will make that a must see. Thanks!

October 15, 2018 at 12:27 PM

The world is flat. The moon landing was a complete fabrication.

October 17, 2018 at 8:53 AM

Especially for families with young children, I recommend a visit to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Part of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, the museum has indoor and outdoor simulator rides, an extensive collection of rockets including a complete Saturn V, items from the Space Shuttle era, and exhibit galleries that look at the International Space Station as well as current and future space exploration. According to its web site, the museum is planning a special exhibit in 2019 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing: “ 'Apollo: When We Went to the Moon.' The exhibit will highlight the Space Race, the period of time the United States and the Soviet Union competed for significant accomplishments in space exploration. The exhibit will open Feb. 16, 2019."


- Brian from Florida

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