Sunlight glints off a spacecraft perched on its landing gear like an interstellar insect—in a tiny memorial park next to a small-town airstrip. Even earthbound and at half-scale, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module evokes the dreamlike moment when the world watched Neil Armstrong’s boots touch moondust in 1969. That giant leap started right here in Warren, Ohio, where 6-year-old Armstrong first took to the sky aboard a Ford TriMotor airplane.
Armstrong isn’t Ohio’s only flight hero. The Wright brothers began tinkering with gliders in their Dayton bike shop in the 1890s. And since then, Ohio has produced 25 astronauts, including John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, and Jim Lovell, who famously averted disaster on Apollo 13.
Across the state from the tribute to his first flight, Neil Armstrong’s western Ohio hometown of Wapakoneta is prepping a party 50 years in the making. At the 10-day Summer Moon Festival (July 12–21), you can salute the lunar landing with moonlight tours, rocket launches and MoonPies. Or visit other spots piquing renewed interest in outer space. Kansas boasts the planet’s largest combined collection of Russian and American space artifacts. Float across the solar system in a Chicago planetarium. Or point a telescope at an inky sky in northern Michigan, and let wonder take hold.
1 Adler Planetarium Chicago The Western Hemisphere’s first modern planetarium has brought the heavens to life for generations of stargazers. View the 1913 Chicago sky before modern light pollution, touch a meteorite and chat with resident astronomers in the Space Visualization Lab. Standout attractions include the city’s largest free, public telescope and the newest museum-produced film shedding fresh light on the moon.
In 8K ultrahigh definition, Adler's Destination Solar System movie travels to the sun's surface and beyond the asteroid belt. Photo courtesy of Adler Planetarium.
2 Armstrong Air and Space Museum Wapakoneta, Ohio Apollo 11 fever will take over this tiny town between Dayton and Toledo for more than a week. For three of the days, July 19–21, Armstrong’s hometown museum will prove that this facility is more than a time capsule. Ohio astronauts Donald Thomas, Robert Springer and others will participate in July programming, and Cleveland’s NASA Glenn Research Center will present Apollo artifacts. The collection includes Armstrong’s space suits, the Gemini VIII capsule he piloted, and hands-on space shuttle and lunar landing simulators.
3 Headlands International Dark Sky Park Mackinaw City, Michigan Far from hazy light pollution, celestial reflections ripple across Lake Michigan in this northern park two miles west of Mackinaw City. And there’s plenty to see during the day, too. “We have miles of trails and shipwrecks just off the shore,” says Marci Schmiege, Emmet County Parks and Recreation Director. Spot constellations with the naked eye or join telescope viewing sessions. Concerts will be part of the July 25–27 Star Party. And an on-site rental home offers private stargazing.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park. Photo by Kevin J. Miyazaki/Redux.
4 Badlands National Park South Dakota As twilight falls over the craggy buttes, rangers train telescopes on planets and nebulae during daily summer viewing events at the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater. “People might even see the aurora borealis or a meteor shower,” says park ranger Aaron Kaye. Explore deeper into the park’s darkest and most remote reaches to see the Milky Way’s river of light arch across a canopy of stars. The Badlands Astronomy Festival is scheduled for July 5–7.
5 Cosmosphere Hutchinson, Kansas One hour northwest of Wichita, you can try on an astronaut suit or hop in a cockpit at space camp (for adults too). Restored back-room consoles from NASA’s Mission Control Center star in the Apollo Redux exhibit this summer at one of the country’s foremost space museums. Cosmosphere houses a V-1 bomber, a V-2 rocket and the most Russian space artifacts outside of Moscow.
Cosmosphere. Photo by John Noltner.
6 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Ohio Book a spot on July 20 at John Glenn Astronomy Park in southern Ohio’s Hocking Hills for a minute-by-minute retelling of the moon landing.
7 Nebraska Star Party Nebraska Merritt Reservoir near Valentine places you hundreds of miles from a big city for daytime water play and camping under surreal night skies from July 28-August 2.
8 Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival North Dakota Theodore Roosevelt National Park hosts star-viewing sessions, rocket building and more from August 30-September 1.