One giant leap: The Cincinnati Museum Center’s newest exhibit honors Apollo 11's moon landing

It’s difficult to tell the story of human flight and space exploration without unearthing a preponderance of Ohio pioneers.

The Wright Brothers, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong all hail from Ohio. Each pushed the limits of their day to become, respectively, the first to fly, the first to orbit the Earth, and the first to set foot on the moon.

The Cincinnati Museum Center (CMC) is now highlighting the region’s unique aerospace legacy through its newest permanent exhibit, the Neil Armstrong Space Exploration Gallery. The gallery is opening in two phases, with the first phase taking a retrospective look at the Apollo space program (1960–1972) and its series of lunar missions.

Now open to the public, “Apollo 11: One Giant Leap” draws audiences of all ages into the story of human space exploration through Apollo 11’s groundbreaking trip to the moon with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

Visitors can walk, or leap, in the footsteps of astronauts whose iconic boot prints leave a trail throughout the exhibit, past artifacts, interactive screens, and photographs.

Objects on display include an Apollo communications cap, an exact replica space suit, Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 inflight jacket, and a rare moon rock sample named Bok.

“[Bok] is the piece of moon rock that was given to CMC by Neil Armstrong for the 35th anniversary of the moon landing,” explains Brian Pollock, manager of the CMC Museum of Natural History and Science.

Armstrong had strong ties to the CMC, serving on its board of trustees for years. His widow, Carol Armstrong, now carries on these ties.

“[Carol Armstrong] was very involved in this project, and in some of the story we’re telling,” he says.

In the center of the gallery, a 360-degree immersive theater loops a film about Armstrong’s Ohio-based journey from aviator to astronaut to Apollo 11 mission commander and first man on the moon.

Historic photographs, video footage, and audio clips chronicle one individual’s life as it responds to the call of the times, serving first in the U.S. Navy, then NASA, then as a teacher and community leader in the Cincinnati area.

But it would be missing the point to speak only of Armstrong.

Though a single public hero frames the exhibit, Pollock stresses that the goal is to highlight an entire constellation of collaborators and experts behind each mission—engineers, astronauts, and mathematicians, just to name a few.

“We had hundreds of thousands of people all dedicated to doing the perfect job.”

This quote by Armstrong is the jumping-off point of the exhibit. It greets visitors as they enter the gallery, inviting a broader understanding — and perhaps an even greater awe — of what goes into space exploration.

With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s moon landing quickly approaching on July 20th, the gallery serves as a timely celebration of a legacy that continues to capture imaginations and inspire future generations of space explorers.

The second phase, scheduled to open this fall, will be more future-oriented. It will give insight into NASA’s ongoing, mind-boggling missions toward new frontiers.

“The current NASA directive is to establish a permanent presence on the moon. That’s called the Gateway,” Pollock explains. “[The Gateway] is an orbital station which would be used to launch missions further on. Ultimately, the plan is to launch crewed missions to Mars.”

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Read more articles by Sarah Dupee.

Sarah Dupee is a freelance writer, teacher, translator, and musician with a background in French and Francophone Studies.