Space suits—real ones—are big at Space Center Houston.
Five space tourists have each spent $20 million or more to ride to the final frontier. The rest of us? We'll all stay grounded while we honor the 50th anniversary of space exploration. The era began on October 4, 1957—the day the Soviet Union's beachball-size Sputnik 1 first swung round the earth. Never had a chance to witness a launchpad countdown? Western states are rich in aerospace artifacts you can visit. (For more, go to www.museumofspacetravel.com.)
CALIFORNIA SCIENCE CENTER Los Angeles.
Stellar goodies include the Mercury-Redstone 2, which lifted Ham the chimp into space, and the command module from Apollo-Soyuz, the first United States–Soviet Union joint space venture. (323) 724-3623, www.californiasciencecenter.org.
FRONTIERS OF FLIGHT MUSEUM Dallas.
Space-related artifacts at historic Love Field include the actual command module from Apollo 7—the first manned Apollo spacecraft. (214) 350-3600, www.flightmuseum.com.
NEW MEXICO MUSEUM OF SPACE HISTORY Alamogordo.
You can hear the roar of early rockets and see an exhibit on the X Prize, a $10 million award for the builders of SpaceShipOne, a manned non-NASA craft. (877) 333-6589, www.nmspacemuseum.org.
SAN DIEGO AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM
Home to the Apollo 9 command module and the Walter M. Schirra Gallery, named for the only astronaut to fly Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft. See mock-ups of all three. (619) 234-8291, www.aerospacemuseum.org.
SPACE CENTER HOUSTON
Check out mission control, Mercury and Gemini capsules, the command module from Apollo 17, and Saturn V, the most powerful rocket ever built. Plus, a huge collection of space suits. (281) 244-2100, www.spacecenter.org.
USS HORNET Alameda, Calif.
After liftoff? Splashdown. The country's most decorated aircraft carrier retrieved the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 crews after their midocean landings. Visitors see a DVD presentation of a capsule's recovery, a rescue helicopter, and a mobile quarantine facility like the one that housed the Apollo 14 crew for four days in 1971. (510) 521-8448, www.uss-hornet.org.
WINGS OVER THE ROCKIES Denver.
Models of spacecraft rule the exhibits here—from a rejected space station prototype to an Apollo command module once used for destruction tests or astronaut training to a 16-foot version of a Titan II launch vehicle. (303) 360-5360, www.wingsmuseum.org.
Photography courtesy Another Off the Wall Production, Inc.
This article was first published in September 2007. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.