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Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex celebrates 50th Anniversary of historic Apollo 11 moon mission

The July 1969 launch, Moon landing and successful return to Earth of Apollo 11, one of the most important accomplishments in human history, is being celebrated across the globe this week – and Delaware North is playing an important role.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, which the company has operated for NASA since 1995, a week ago launched a series of major commemorative events that is providing guests the opportunity celebrate the mission through exciting live programming, archival footage viewings, interactive exhibits, astronaut appearances and never-before-seen artifacts.

The “Apollo 11 Launch Flashback Event Presented by CBS” on Tuesday (July 16) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the historic launch from Launch Complex 39-B at Kennedy Space Center. Guests gathered at the Apollo/Saturn V Center – which features a number of new and enhanced exhibits unveiled on Monday by Delaware North – so they could relive the excitement and anticipation of the moment the Apollo 11 astronauts lifted off for their historic mission to the Moon.

The crowd cheered along with legendary news anchor Walter Cronkite and watched the original CBS broadcast of the launch in real time, with live commentary from Apollo 16 astronaut Charlie Duke, who was the capsule communicator (CAPCOM) of the Apollo 11 mission, and CBS news correspondent Mark Strassmann.

CBS also featured the Apollo/Saturn V Center in a number of its stories on the anniversary, with new evening news anchor Norah O’Donnell onsite. One of the stories can be viewed here.

That evening, renowned British rock band 

Duran Duran, whose hit songs include “Planet Earth,” paid tribute to the historic mission with a concert under the stars in the iconic Rocket Garden at the visitor complex. The concert featured artist duo Studio Drift, which added a light show powered by Intel® Shooting Star™ drones. A clip from the concert can be viewed here.

The “reimagined” Apollo/Saturn V Center was showcased to VIP guests and regional and national news media Monday. Visitor complex guests access the center via the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour that is included with admission.

“The Apollo/Saturn V Center opened almost 25 years ago and we’ve always added and improved what we have on display, but this was a major effort to reimagine a number of key exhibits, add several new exhibits and generally make it an even more memorable guest experience as we celebrate the 50th anniversary,” said Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of the visitor complex.

Protze was joined in the “Transformation Celebration” by Robert Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Also new are exhibits on various artifacts – including Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins’ flight jacket – and on the Fisher Space Pen, an F-1 Saturn V engine, a lunar rover ride, the digital art display “The People’s Moon,” and “Touch the Moon,” where guests can leave their own footprints “on the Moon” and then touch an authentic Moon rock.

Another new feature of the Apollo/Saturn V Center was unveiled Friday, a Moon Tree Garden featuring 12 trees that are direct descendants of seeds that orbited the Moon, accompanied by plaques commemorating each of the 12 Apollo crewed missions.

Also unveiled in the garden’s center was a George Lundeen sculpture, “The Eagle Has Landed,” that depicts Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Collins in their space suits. The statue was a gift from Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans.

The anniversary events at the visitor complex continue Saturday with a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, and a final welcome home event on July 24 will commemorate the day the Apollo 11 astronauts returned to Earth.

PHOTO CAPTION (TOP): The new Moonscape at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which guests to Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex visit on the bus tour that is included with admission, features the Lunar
Module-9, an authentic lunar module that never flew. The LM-9, which was previously suspended from the ceiling, has been completely refurbished. Below: Guests relive the historic Apollo 11 launch 50 years ago Tuesday by viewing the vintage CBS news coverage of the launch during a “Flashback” event at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

PHOTO CAPTION (CENTER): Cutting a ceremonial ribbon on July 12 to celebrate the new Moon Tree Garden and Apollo 11 crew statue were (left to right): Jim Houser, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Delaware North, which operates the visitor complex for NASA; Kelvin Manning, associate director, technical, Kennedy Space Center; Casey Hubris, chief marketing officer, Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans; Rosemary Roosa, president of the Moon Tree Foundation and daughter of Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa; Robert Cabana, director, Kennedy Space Center; Scott Phillips, space shuttle engineer/wood artist; and Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of the visitor complex.

PHOTO CAPTION (BOTTOM): The new “The Eagle Has Landed” sculpture at the Apollo/Saturn V Center depicts Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins in their space suits. The statue was a gift from Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans.