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L to R: Space Station Museum Santanaut; Craters of the Moon tourist; Space Age Lodge mural; Meteor Crater telescope.
L to R: Space Station Museum Santa-naut; Craters of the Moon tourist; Space Age Lodge mural; Meteor Crater view-scope.

Road Trip To The Moon

Road Trip to the Moon.

Neil Armstrong, First Flight Lunar Module Replica. Next to McDonald's, Warren, Ohio
Neil Armstrong, First Flight Lunar Module Replica. Next to McDonald's, Warren, OH.

The U.S. and Russia never nuked each other during the Cold War, so the Space Race became the defining freedom-vs-communism face-off. And freedom won!

Well, not at first; America lagged behind the Soviets in the early years. But the United States learned fast, rocketed past the Reds, and walked away with the victory, literally, by walking on the Moon.

A lot of science and hardware -- and three U.S. Presidents -- got us to that point, at places familiar to any devotee of The Right Stuff: Edwards Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral, NASA Mission Control in Houston. Hero monkeys and daring spacemen inspired a generation of kid star voyagers, fueling the ascent of nerd culture, STEM, freeze dried ice cream, and Star Trek.

Children who knew the names of the Mercury 7 and their capsules also worried that a puberty growth spurt might thwart their own astronaut careers (Mercury program maximum: 5'11"/180 lbs.). Florida's Cape Kennedy became the Space Coast destination for millions of vacationers eager to share in the vision, riding bus tours (adult tickets back then cost only two bucks) to assembly buildings and rocket gantries, even hoping to see a manned mission take-off.

America succeeded in that first "giant leap" toward the stars, and then, for the next 30 years... settled for a space school bus to low Earth orbit. Moon momentum evaporated like coolant from a scrubbed satellite launch. Two horrific Shuttle disasters further shook resolve. Bean-counters griped about the extravagance of human missions, envisioning a future of budget robots, or no missions at all.

Headline, hotline, Moon Rock. LBJ Library and Museum, Austin, Texas.
Headline, hotline, Moon Rock. LBJ Library and Museum, Austin, TX.

But space is still the final frontier, and lately it's been talked up as a people place again, amid a swirl of private rockets, meteor defense, Space Force babble, moon ice, and dreams of Mars. So what better way to inspire where we're going than to see where we've been?

This Exit For The Moon

Roadside America's Road Trip to the Moon maps our choice Space Race landmarks, artifacts, and roadside attractions across the nation -- spanning the years 1956 to 1973, with relics from the "First Spaceman" memorial in Michigan to the Russian Lunokhod in Oregon, as well as NASA's early manned mission programs. Most of the U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, have moon-related roadside attractions, scattered like crater ejecta across the Sea of Tranquility.

Astronaut at the Nixon Library.

Roadside America guides you to moon boot prints in South Carolina, Neil Armstrong's heartbeat in Colorado, and the world's only moon golf club in New Jersey. There are over 80 sights -- a lot to visit in person. Arizona's Meteor Crater will always tout its role in lunar astronaut training, while California's little Space Station Museum hosts veteran astronauts you can meet at its annual Space Festival. That opportunity won't last forever.

So don't delay launch. Take our Road Trip to the Moon!

Road Trip To The Moon - Map

Road Trip to the Moon.

A Few Exhibit Highlights

These are a tiny sample of the kind of Space Race treasures often buried among the other exhibits at a museum or tourist attraction:

Ham's underwear and jacket.

Wardrobe of Ham, Space Chimp

Before NASA got involved, the U.S. Air Force oversaw many of America's early rocket launches. One of them was the January 1961 flight of Ham the Astrochimp, the first hominid in space. Although his fame was brief, the Air Force hasn't forgotten Ham; it displays his underwear and his leather bomber jacket at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Ohio.

Soviet Moon Walker

Lunokhod. The Evergreen Air and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon is known for its huge "Spruce Goose" wooden airplane, but it also has a duplicate Soviet Lunokhod ("Moon Walker") 2, which reached the moon in January 1973. The moon Lunokhod was later sold by cash-strapped Russia to American video game developer and space geek Richard Garriott. He hopes to visit it someday. You can visit this one any time.

Wax Nixon greets wax astronauts.

Wax Prez and Astronauts

How do you depict a disgraced President in a good light? The National Presidential Wax Museum diorama in Keystone, South Dakota leans Richard Nixon forward like a game show host, talking to just-back-from-the-Moon Apollo 11 astronauts in July 1969. Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins can't hide; they're stuck in their lunar germ quarantine trailer.

Moon doom contingency speech.

And Now, The Bad News

As soon as Neil Armstrong took that one small step onto the lunar surface, Nixon was on the Earth-to-Moon phone to gush about America's great achievement. What the public didn't know is that the President had a short disaster contingency speech, which he would have read to the world if the team couldn't leave the Moon. The memo is displayed at the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum in Yorba Linda, California.

Road Trip To The Moon - Map

Scroll down for the list.

Also see: Space Travel By Car | 1966 Cape Kennedy Home Movie

Road Trip to the Moon

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