Today marks the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the moon when, for the first time ever, two men stepped on the moon (pay no attention to the conspiracy nuts). The Adler Planetarium plans on celebrating this historic achievement all month long with exhibits and events, including visits by some of the lunar astronauts themselves.
Considering most cell phones today are more technologically advanced than the entire Columbia command module was, current generations may not understand just what an incredible moment the lunar landing was.
"For me, Apollo 11's ultimate legacy is the power of humans to change their environment and leave the planet," Lucy Fortson, the Adler's vice president for research, told the Sun-Times. "It's proving that we could do it. That first tadpole that came out of the sea and went onto land – it's the same thing. Apollo 11 was a significant step in our transition into a space-faring species."
The Planetarium's Shoot for the Moon is a new permanent exhibition which features a fully-restored Gemini 12 spacecraft (flown in 1966) and the Jim Lovell Collection of personal space artifacts. Several interactive pieces allow visitors to take the controls of a lunar-landing vehicle simulator, feel what it's like to jump and move in lunar gravity, and see how the moon's lack of atmosphere affects depth perception.
Today, at 2 p.m., author and historian Craig Nelson will be discussing his book Rocket Men, which tells the story of the Apollo 11 mission. The book reminds us that those first astronauts really had no idea what to expect once they landed, so their trip wasn't just one of scientific exploration but also of mystery and faith. And we can't forget the political motivations.
Monday, on the anniversary of the moon landing, several special events are lined up. Visitors can touch a real moon rock from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. and enjoy a free piece of cake at 3:17 p.m. (the exact time Apollo 11 landed on the moon). The Adler will be open until 10 p.m., so if you miss the cake, you can still take part in some fun activities, including "Make Your Mark" – your own shoeprint in air-dry clay that you can take home.
Finally, on Wednesday July 22, the Adler is hosting a discussion with veteran NASA astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell at Thorne Auditorium of Northwestern University. The Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 space travelers will talk about their experiences and careers starting at 7 p.m. (Tickets are $15 for the general public.) Space is limited, so you'll want to reserve your spot in advance.
And if you'd like to relive the Apollo 11 mission, the We Choose the Moon website provides an interactive "real-time" recreation. By this time 40 years ago, the rocket had already launched, but visitors who tune in can see where the astronauts were in space at this exact time in 1969 and listen in on communications between the astronauts and Houston command. You can even follow the "live" transmission on Twitter!
Matt Bartosik, editor of Off the Rocks' next issue, is fascinated by space travel.