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Fly Me to the Moon

Moon landing anniversary events are taking place this weekend across the South and especially in Alabama’s Rocket City.

Hundreds of millions gathered before television sets around the world on July 20, 1969. A moment of unity, unlike anything witnessed before and ever experienced again, cradled the world. Waiting together, anticipating together, tensing together, waiting some more together, until 20:17 UST Apollo 11 touched down on the moon. Then, after a little more waiting, the world breathed, gasped and cheered together as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their “giant leap for mankind.”

Few moments in history are thought of so fondly. The weeks leading up to the 50th anniversary has brought memories of the day soaring back. My mother excitedly recalled her parents packing her, her nine siblings and even a few cousins into a car to find a motel with a television. It was their first time to a hotel so naturally, the children were rampaging the halls, the rooms and the beds. As the night wore on, all ages gathered together around the TV, cramming too many onto beds, waiting with unconstrained excitement. “Just open the door!” was exclaimed. “This is important” was reminded. Someone wet the bed. My mother fell asleep before the walk.

This innocuous memory stood out as a genuinely communal moment, an example of the impact it had on everyday lives. Obviously, the moon landing stands as one of the most influential moments in world history, but the effect it created among the 600 million individual people who watched huddled together is unparalleled.

This week, cities and towns around the United States have been paying homage to the 50th anniversary of this incredible event. Huntsville, Alabama, is no different, except it has an especially personal connection to space exploration.

Huntsville is home to the Marshall Space Flight Center, the largest NASA hub, and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the location of the forever-dreamed-of Space Camp. Freedom 7, which placed the first American in orbit, was tested and researched at Marshall Space Flight Center. When goals became focused on putting a man on the moon, the Marshall Center responded, designing and testing the Saturn launch vehicles used for Apollo 11. The Saturn V, developed in Huntsville, remains the only launch vehicle capable of sending humans past low orbit. The United States’s history with space is inextricably linked to Huntsville.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is hosting a series of exciting events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. The Rocket City Summer Fest Moon Landing Concert will take place Saturday, July 20. The Rocket Center also has daily activities scheduled throughout the week, including daily live Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Reenactments; Apollo 11 Virtual Reality experience; and a twice-daily showing of “Apollo 11 First Steps” in the planetarium.

Huntsville is not alone in its celebratory fever. Hotels around the South are hosting themed events, including the Marriott Marquis Houston, Texas, which is featuring a “Moon Melt Massage” and a “To the Moon and Back” hotel package through July 31. The famous Space Center in Houston is holding events all weekend, with late-night NASA Tram Tours, notable speakers an outdoor concert, a family STEM zone and more.

On July 26-28, the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral is giving tours led by Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden, as well as a rocket launch on the 21. For events all over the US, check out this running list compiled by NASA.

Photos by Patrice M Christian from Flickr Creative Commons.

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