With the 50th anniversary of one of humankind’s greatest achievements to date – the first walk on the moon – coming up next year, planning is under way for nearly a full week’s worth of special events celebrating not only how far the Space Coast has come since that historic mission, but what the future of space exploration holds for this area.
The golden anniversary in 2019 of the groundbreaking lunar voyage of Apollo 11 is expected to be observed with great fanfare across the country, but the inspiring accomplishment of that momentous spaceflight has extra-special meaning here in Brevard County. This is where space efforts throughout the 1960s helped America reach an objective President John F. Kennedy laid out in 1961: to land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth.
Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism already is working with the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, and the Aldrin Family Foundation on a weeklong celebration of the trailblazing mission of Apollo 11, which lifted off from the Space Coast on July 16, 1969, and four days later touched down in the Sea of Tranquility on the lunar surface.
A series of special events next July 11-16 will lead up to the commemoration of that famous launch 50 years earlier. The six-day celebration of the countdown to liftoff culminates with a big gala planned for July 16.
“This will be a weeklong celebration not only of Apollo 11, but also of just how far we have come since then, and of what lies ahead,” Bonnie King, the deputy director of Florida’s Space Coast Office of Tourism, told us. “The events we host on the Space Coast next July will honor our past, reflect on our present and look to the future of space exploration.”
Several NASA astronauts past and present are expected to participate in many of the activities currently in the preliminary stages of development, King said. In addition to the July 16 gala, other special events being considered include a Cocoa Beach parade honoring the astronauts as they ride atop Chevy Corvettes, the classic sports car so closely associated with these space pioneers – all the way back to Alan Shepard, the first American in space.
Another public event, “Growing Up Apollo,” would feature the adult children of some of our astronauts discussing what it was like to grow up here during that extraordinary period.
The celebration events on the Space Coast should attract visitors from far and wide who want to be part of the tribute to this groundbreaking chapter in American and world history. It is anticipated that lodging accommodations will be tight and dining establishments and other hospitality locations quite busy during the commemorative activities in mid-July 2019. Could the number of out-of-towners approach the estimated 750,000 to 1 million who came to Brevard County on July 16, 1969, to watch Apollo 11 soar into the heavens? We’ll find out in less than a year.
Apollo 11 carried a three-man crew – Mission Commander Neil Armstrong, Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, and Command Module Pilot Michael Collins – on its pivotal journey. On July 20, 1969, first Armstrong and then Aldrin stepped off their lunar module Eagle and took those famous first steps on the moon, while Collins orbited overhead in the command module Columbia. The trio returned to Earth July 24, splashing down in the Pacific.
It is still too early to know the July 2019 appearance plans for Apollo 11’s two surviving crew members, Collins, 87, and Aldrin, 88. Their presence will be in high demand not just on the Space Coast, but also at other commemorative events around the country, King explained. Armstrong, the first man on the moon, died in 2012 at age 82.