This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong becoming the first human to step on the surface of the moon, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is hosting a five-day celebration to commemorate the event.
The Apollo 11 mission, manned by Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, began July 16, 1969. It lasted more than eight days and effectively ended the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States.
The mission was completed with a computer that had only 64KB of memory — one millionth of the memory of the smallest storage iPhone X.
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” Armstrong said, almost 50 years ago, as roughly 600 million people watched worldwide.
The Smithsonian’s official 50th anniversary celebration will go from July 16 to July 20. Three of the celebration’s five days, July 18-20, will include the “Apollo 50 Festival” on the National Mall, and the last day will include a late-night event at the museum to celebrate the exact time the first steps occurred.
The festivities begin Tuesday with the Smithsonian putting Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit on display for the first time in 13 years.
A Kickstarter campaign in 2015 garnered thousands of donations to conserve the suit, which will be displayed in a state-of-the-art case designed to protect it, according to a news release from the Smithsonian.
The suit will be near the 1903 Wright Flyer in the Air and Space Museum until the “Destination Moon” exhibit is completed in 2022.
This display will be accompanied by digital simulations on the Air and Space Museum’s 16-by-12 foot media wall in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall, which will let visitors relive the space mission in real time.
Kids who love space will get a treat July 17, when the museum will host a screening of the PBS KIDS series “Ready Jet Go!” in its IMAX theater at 5 p.m. After the screening, there will be live music performances, games, and a meet and greet with the titular character Jet. Amy Mainzer, the show’s science consultant from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Christyl Johnson from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, also will make appearances.
July 18 is the first day of the “Apollo 50 Festival” on the National Mall, starting at 9 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. There will be hands-on exhibits and activities, costumed characters, and more “Ready, Jet, Go!” performances. Tents by NASA, Boeing, Raytheon, the LEGO group and “Ready, Jet, Go!” will line the Mall between 4th and 7th streets.
Speakers at the event include MythBusters’ Adam Savage, astronauts from the International Space Station, NASA scientists and engineers, and more.
Also July 18, there will be a museum program in partnership with the State Department and George Washington University at GW's Lisner Auditorium. Called “One Giant Leap: Space Diplomacy Past, Present, Future,” the free ticketed event will feature a panel with Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins; Ellen Stofan, John and Adrienne Mars Director of the National Air and Space Museum; and U.S. Science Envoy for Space Charles Bolden.
July 19 will be another family-geared day, with activities on the Mall again from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a “Discover the Moon Day” program from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The program will include educational activities allowing visitors to interact one-on-one with museum scientists and learn about lunar exploration, research and missions. High-resolution images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will be on display as well.
The program also will allow visitors to start near the lunar module in the Milestones of Flight Hall and “retrace” the route the astronauts walked on the moon.
Finally, on July 20, the museum will host a free late-night celebration from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Called “The Eagle Has Landed,” the program includes astronaut costume designing, trivia, scavenger hunts, science demonstrations, stargazing at the observatory and more.
There will be a countdown at 10:56 p.m. to the exact time Neil Armstrong first stepped onto the moon.
Also a part of the official five-day festival is the museum's projection of a Saturn V rocket on the side of the Washington Monument July 16-20. Visitors who go on the 19th and 20th will get the chance to see the "Apollo 50: Go for the Moon" show, which will use projection and archival footage to recreate the actual rocket launch.
The Smithsonian is celebrating in a multitude of other ways beyond the five-day festival. Boeing donated $2 million to sponsor the 50th anniversary, and programming began in fall of 2018, according to a news release from the National Air and Space Museum.
In December 2018, the museum teamed up with the Washington National Cathedral to explore the spiritual meaning of space exploration, looking at the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast and the famous Earthrise photo.
The cathedral features a space window, which stands out for its haunting mix of darkness and light.
“It serves as a shrine to the courage of man in his exploration of space," said Elody Crimi of the National Cathedral.
In the center, there’s a sliver of moon rock dedicated by NASA astronauts on the five-year anniversary of the moon landing. It took painstaking work from an artist and some assurances from the cathedral to get it in place.
“We had promised the White House, we promised the Smithsonian and all parties that be, including Houston space laboratory, that we would take good care of this rock," Crimi said.
The “Apollo at the Park” program began June 4 and displays full-sized statues of Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit in Major League Baseball parks across the country. The first statue was unveiled at Nationals Park in D.C.
The Air and Space Museum also announced the “Race to the Moon” activity, a virtual race on the social fitness app Strava that challenges participants to run 50 miles in 50 days, according to a news release.
Participants have the chance to win exclusive Apollo 50 content and prizes. The race began June 1 and ends July 20, the day of the 50th anniversary.