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Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum.
Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum entrance

Armstrong Air and Space Museum

Field review by the editors.

Wapakoneta, Ohio

For galactic pioneers who've dreamed of some day living on the moon, a visit to the Armstrong Air and Space Museum may be the best earthly option. It was built, according to its literature, "to resemble a futuristic moon base," or at least how moon bases were envisioned on July 20, 1972, when the museum opened on the third anniversary of the moon landing. Set into an earthen berm, its planetarium dome glowing at night like a perpetual moonrise, the museum is in fact a windowless bunker, perfectly suited to the vacuum of space. Inside, several of its exhibits hang from brackets bolted into its poured concrete walls.

Listen to Neil Armstrong's parents.

Neil Armstrong, the museum's namesake, was the 39-year old pilot and aerospace engineer who commanded Apollo 11 in 1969, and became the first man to walk on the moon. He was born only a few miles from the museum, which pays tribute to its local hero even though the scrupulously private Armstrong had nothing to do with the place (When he died in 2012, Armstrong was buried at sea because he didn't want tourists visiting his grave).

Lunar Landing gallery.
Lunar Landing gallery.

On the museum property there's a jet fighter (actually flown by Armstrong), a sealed Apollo capsule replica, and a Gemini capsule replica open on one side for visitor photo ops. The museum has also erected a granite memorial to crew lost in the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia shuttle accidents. There are bronze statues of Armstrong as a boy and as a young fighter pilot, both unveiled in 2019.

Indoors, the museum exhibits progress chronologically, starting with quick review of Armstrong's early years. The items include his Boy Scout scarf and parts from his model rockets -- then blast off into the NASA heyday of the 1960s. Visitors peer into the actual Gemini capsule that Armstrong piloted in 1966, and admire his astronaut survival machete. Exhibits such as "Soviets: Falling Behind" and "Apollo I: Human Tragedy" set the scene for Armstrong's triumph, "Pow! To the Moon."

Moon rock.
Rock brought back from the Moon.

The museum's most treasured item is a golf ball-size lunar chunk brought back on Apollo 11, displayed behind bulletproof glass. Detailed space food and how-do-you-poop-in-space exhibits share a gallery with Armstrong's spare moon suit and a case of his post-moon trophies and medals, from groups such as The Society of Experimental Test Pilots.

Tributes, both corporate and amateur, line the walls. A life-size portrait by David Philip Wilson shows Armstrong as he's stepping onto the moon. Wilson rendered Armstrong's face peering from his oversized spacesuit like a kid bundled up for a snowball fight.

To get to the rest of the exhibits you have to navigate the "Infinity Room," a mirrored hallway with tiny lights that gives visitors "a glimpse of walking in space," according to its accompanying sign. The Infinity Room leads to the Astro Theater (the museum's glowing dome) where visitors can watch an astronaut POV film of a lunar landing.

Exiting the other side, visitors encounter more Armstrong tributes and a showcase that explains how modern athletic shoes would have been impossible without moon boot technology, and how space insulation is the forerunner of today's mylar party balloons. In the gift shop you can buy a reproduction of the Wapakoneta Daily News from the day Neil walked on the moon, with a photo of his nervous parents on the front page.

Gemini and Apollo capsule replicas.
Gemini and Apollo capsule replicas.

Armstrong, for all his fame, wasn't alone on the moon with Apollo 11. His partner, Buzz Aldrin, has been far more visible to the public than the reclusive Armstrong ever was -- but his only public monument is a plaque on a rock. Until Buzz builds his own moon base, Armstrong's museum is the destination of choice among frustrated lunar explorers.

There's really no alternative. Despite occasional boasts from Washington and private billionaires, it's unlikely that you'll be going to the real moon any time soon.

Armstrong Air and Space Museum

500 Apollo Drive, Wapakoneta, OH
I-75 exit 111. West on Bellefontaine Street, then a quick right onto Apollo Drive.
T-Sa 9:30-5, Su 12-5 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $10.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

The Temple of ToleranceThe Temple of Tolerance, Wapakoneta, OH - < 1 mi.
Neil Armstrong: Happy GuyNeil Armstrong: Happy Guy, Wapakoneta, OH - 1 mi.
Big Space Helmet and MoonprintBig Space Helmet and Moonprint, Wapakoneta, OH - 1 mi.
In the region:
Shrine of Headstones, Glandorf, OH - 33 mi.

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