The countdown is on for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and that means the appointment books for space luminaries and their fans are filling up like the propellant tanks on a Saturn V rocket.
Seattle’s Museum of Flight is one of the epicenters for the festivities, thanks to its status as the next stopover for the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling “Destination Moon” exhibit. Due to a remodeling project at the National Air and Space Museum, some of the choicest Apollo artifacts are going on the road. The Museum of Flight will be hosting the exhibit starting next month and running all the way through the July 20 anniversary into the Labor Day weekend.
Just this week, curators worked in a sealed-off section of the museum to get the helmet and the gloves worn by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin ready for the exhibit. A magnifying glass was positioned near the cuff of a glove to give museumgoers a close look at the checklist of tasks Aldrin was given for his moonwalk. The checklist reminded him about an important chore: taking a picture of a bootprint.
“Destination Moon” officially opens on April 13, but VIPs will get sneak peeks starting a couple of weeks before that date. There’s a luncheon for museum members on March 30, featuring talks by Apollo flight directors Glynn Lunney, Gerry Griffin and Milt Windler. A members-only preview of the exhibit is planned for April 6.
The exhibit’s centerpiece is Columbia, the Apollo 11 command module that orbited the moon and brought the astronauts back to Earth, but Seattle museumgoers will be getting a bonus. Separate from the Smithsonian’s artifacts, the Museum of Flight is displaying the remains of Saturn V rocket engines that were recovered from the Atlantic Ocean’s floor during an expedition backed by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.
July will be prime time for Apollo celebrations: For example, there’s ApolloPalooza in Denver (July 13-20), featuring Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt and famed flight director Gene Kranz. A gala is being planned at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida on July 16, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s launch, and the National Air and Space Museum plans to present five days’ worth of activities on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., from July 16 to 20. (Check Aerospace America’s calendar for a detailed rundown.)
Many of the details for those celebrations are up in the air, so to speak. It’s not yet exactly clear which Apollo astronauts will be at which events. But there’s one place where Buzz Aldrin is sure to turn up in July: the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., where he’s organizing a 50th-anniversary gala on July 13. Tickets for the event start at $1,000. (The $3,500 Ultimate VIP tickets are already sold out.)
“I am still in awe by the fact that I walked on the moon,” Aldrin said in a news release. “I look forward to commemorating this historic milestone by reflecting on the mission that changed the course of human history and sharing my own vision for the future of space exploration.”
Seattle may not have Aldrin in July, but the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace conference is due to return to the Hyatt Regency Lake Washington in Renton, Wash., on July 17-19. NewSpace will focus on commercial space ventures that could facilitate trips to the moon and onward to Mars within the next decade or two.
There’s so much going on in July that one 50th-anniversary space gathering had to be moved to September.
The Space Studies Institute, founded by Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill, is planning a conference on Sept. 9-10 at the Museum of Flight to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings as well as the 50th anniversary of O’Neill’s “High Frontier” space settlement concept.
“SSI 50: The Space Settlement Enterprise” will take a fresh look at the High Frontier idea, and take stock of new technologies in fields ranging from habitat and facility design, to space transportation to life-support systems and space resources.
Conference chairman Edward Wright said the conference will also take on the “800-pound gorilla” hanging over the concept: Is space settlement economically viable?
“How will you pay for these settlement efforts? What will these people be doing? Who will create the jobs?” he asked. “People talk about having a million settlers on Mars, but I haven’t heard a really good idea about what these settlers will be doing.”
Not having an answer to those questions is arguably the biggest reason why humans haven’t gone back to the moon for nearly 50 years.
Over the past five decades, there have been all sorts of ideas about what financial opportunities await in space, ranging from asteroids rich in valuable metals, to space solar power stations, to helium-3 fusion fuel from the moon, to space hotels. Figuring out the killer app for space settlement would truly be one giant leap. But Wright is realistic about the challenge.
“Our goal for this year is not to come up with the answers,” he said, “but to figure out what the questions are.”