On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged Americans, saying, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” As of that date, America’s space experience totaled 15 minutes, the single suborbital flight of Alan Shepard. Just eight years later, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface.
Celebrations of the Apollo program will culminate in July during the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Special events will take place at locations associated with Apollo, including Florida’s Kennedy Space Center; Space Center Houston; the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama; and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
At the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio, you’ll find a Jetsons-style museum that Armstrong, the most modest of men, didn’t want built. He never thought he deserved special attention, considering himself just one of the many thousands who worked to make the moon missions possible.
The museum tells how a kid from a one-horse Midwest town grew up to be one of the United States’ top test pilots, an astronaut, and the first man to land a spacecraft on the moon. It illustrates how every hotshot pilot starts as a novice, displaying the simple, fabric-covered, two-seat Aeronca Champ in which Armstrong learned to fly just feet from his Gemini 8 space capsule. You can also view Armstrong’s Gemini and Apollo spacesuits, a rock he collected on the moon, and a jet he flew as a test pilot. The museum is in Armstrong’s hometown, about 90 miles (driving) northwest of Columbus, Ohio. While there, drive by his boyhood home at 601 W. Benton Street in Wapakoneta.
The Stafford Air and Space Museum in Weatherford, Oklahoma, is named for astronaut Thomas P. Stafford, an Oklahoma native and veteran of four space missions—Gemini 6, Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and the Apollo-Soyuz project, the first joint space flight between the United States and the Soviet Union. The museum features Stafford’s Gemini 6 spacecraft, Gemini and Apollo space suits, and one of the few remaining Titan II boosters. A collection of about 20 historic aircraft and full-scale, flying replicas of famous aircraft such as the Wright Flyer, Bleriot 11, and the Spirit of St. Louis are also on display.
The Virgil I. Grissom Memorial in Mitchell, Indiana, honors Indiana native Virgil "Gus" Grissom, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts and the United States’ second man in space. Grissom commanded the first Gemini flight and was assigned to command the first Apollo mission, but perished during the Apollo 1 launch pad fire in 1967. The Grissom Memorial, which is more accurately a small museum, tells the story of Grissom's life, starting with his birth and youth in Mitchell, his career as a military and test pilot, and his selection as a pioneering astronaut. Exhibits include Grissom's Gemini space suit, the Gemini 3 spacecraft he named Molly Brown, and some personal artifacts.
The Grissom Memorial is located within Spring Mill State Park, three miles east of Grissom's hometown, about 80 miles south of Indianapolis.
If you’re visiting the memorial, plan to also visit his boyhood home. It’s best to make contact through the Gus Grissom Boyhood Home Facebook page for someone to provide access.