Get us in your inbox

Space ships inside the Apollo exhibit.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

A first look at the Intrepid Museum’s major new exhibit on the Space Race

"We choose to go to the Moon."

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan

“We choose to go to the Moon,” President John F. Kennedy’s voice booms through speakers welcoming visitors to the massive new Space Race-themed exhibit at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. With archival speeches, historic documents, and incredible space equipment, the exhibit whisks visitors back to the 1960s, an era when humanity first ventured into the unknown. 

"Apollo: When We Went to the Moon" opens at the Intrepid Museum (that's the gigantic aircraft carrier in Hell's Kitchen along the Hudson River) on March 26 and runs through September 2. At 9,000 square feet, it's the largest temporary exhibit in the museum's history.

Here's a sneak peek at what to expect from this goosebumps-inducing show. 

RECOMMENDED: The best museum exhibitions in NYC right now

A photograph of Jackie and John F. Kennedy in front of an airplane.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

1. Sense of the human scale 

While astronaut Neil Armstrong's name will forever remain in the history books, more than 400,000 engineers and technicians worked to make the launch possible. The exhibition pays homage to Armstrong, of course, but doesn't forget the many other people who worked behind the scenes to make Apollo 11 possible. 

The exhibition digs into the technical acumen necessary to conduct the launch, showcasing sophisticated engineering and design tools. Plus, it explores how political leaders emboldened the American public to get on board with the cause.

A display of Civil Rights and Vietnam War-era materials.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

2. Historical context

Amid Cold War-era tensions and Soviet space achievements, President Kennedy sought an achievement that would clearly demonstrate America’s technical superiority. In 1962, he issued a challenge to send American astronauts to the moon and bring them home safely within the next decade. A year later, however, Kennedy was assassinated, and President Lyndon B. Johnson took on the mantle left by his late predecessor. 

Johnson shepherded Kennedy's legacy forward during a tumultuous time of racial violence and military force in Vietnam. The exhibit grounds the Space Race within that historical context, helping even the youngest visitors understand the significant era. 

Three screens show the Apollo 11 launch.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

3. A close-up look at the launch 

It's impossible not to feel goosebumps while taking a seat and immersing yourself in the launch of Apollo 11. Three screens project multiple angles of the July 19, 1969 launch while the audio in the background counts down: "Five, four, three, two, one, zero," then the explosive sounds of five F-1 engines roar to life, propelling the rocket to the moon.  

Plaster casts of three astronauts' hands.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

4. Casts of the astronauts' hands

The astronauts aboard the flight—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins—needed custom space gloves that would fit perfectly while allowing dexterity. If the gloves were too big, astronauts would have had difficulty touching objects. If they were too small, the astronauts could feel pain and even lose fingernails. It was a tough challenge for designers in charge of the spacesuits.

To get the fit just right, they made casts of the astronauts’ hands. Collins wore his wedding band when fitted for the cast, meaning he had to remember to wear his ring during the mission. Look closely to see the ring imprint on the left set of gloves.

A piece of a lunar meteorite encased in plastic.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

5. A touchable piece of the moon

Just like Neil Armstrong, you can touch the moon. The exhibit displays a slice of a lunar meteorite (meaning a piece of the moon that was chipped free when a meteor struck the moon). The piece on display was recovered from northwest Africa in 2014. 

A display of the moon's surface.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

6. A chance to leave your own footprint

Also like Neil Armstrong, you can leave your steps on the moon—well, sort of. There’s a display you can walk on that looks just like the moon’s surface. 

When Apollo landed on the moon, astronauts didn't know what to expect. In their bulky spacesuits and moon boots, they trudged along the moon's surface where they found a fine powder with rocks and pebbles. They said it smelled like gunpowder. Don't worry, the Intrepid's "moon" doesn't smell, and you can traverse its surface without moon boots.

Newspapers announcing man walking on the moon.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

7. Newspapers announcing the mission

Millions watched as Apollo 11 safely landed on the moon, marking a major triumph to close out the 1960s. Newspapers exclaimed the news in front-page headlines: "Man walks on the moon," "'The Eagle has landed,'" "'One small step for man ... one giant leap for mankind.'" 

You'll get to see archival newspapers from that historic moment. 

An activation checklist book from the Apollo mission.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

8. The intense "activation checklist" 

A thick book called the “activation checklist” helped astronauts activate the lunar module and separate it from the command service module as they descended to the moon’s surface. But things didn’t go by the book. 

They'd expected a smooth plain but instead found a large crater field littered with truck-sized boulders. Plus, they were running low on fuel. Alarms sounded in the module and mission control called out warnings to Armstrong.

Armstrong kept his cool, using a hand controller to override the autopilot and maneuver the lunar module to a smoother and safer landing area. With just 30 seconds of fuel left, Armstrong found a safe spot to land the lunar module and make history. All the while, his heart rate never surpassed 150 beats per minute.

A lunar module replica.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

9. A lunar rover you can climb aboard

It wouldn’t be 2024 without an Instagrammable moment, and this exhibit delivers with a cute lunar module you can take a seat inside. The model is based on Apollo 17’s lunar roving vehicle designed to move across the surface of the moon. 

The Apollo exhibit.
Photograph: By Therese Scheller / Courtesy of the Intrepid

10. Insight into the present and future of the space program

While Apollo 11 was certainly the most triumphant moment in the U.S. space program, the work to explore our galaxy continues. The exhibit also explores the additional lunar launches in the 1960s and 1970s. 

See "Apollo: When We Went to the Moon" at the Intrepid Museum in Hell's Kitchen through September 2. The exhibit is included with museum admission.

Popular on Time Out

    You may also like
    You may also like