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
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)
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
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.Tweet
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