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The biggest day in space


A 1994 NBC retrospective

looks at the Apollo 11

mission and its legacy.

If you look hard enough, the calendar provides several opportunities to celebrate humanity's push to the final frontier. There's Yuri's Night in April, Space Day in May, and World Space Week in October. But many argue that July 20 – the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing – should be the biggest space day of the year, since that marks the first time humans ever set foot on another celestial body. Some have even cast it as a holy day with almost religious undertones. Now there’s a petition calling on the president to declare this day an official Space Exploration Day.

The push to create a permanent, non-paid national holiday - something on the order of, say, Flag Day - goes back to 1971, just two years after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the historic landing. Since then, various presidents have commemorated the achievement periodically, on a year-to-year basis - but it's not yet found a permanent home on the federal calendar (or in the greeting-card shop, for that matter, even though Earth Day has its own category).

Today, the National Space Society made a renewed pitch for the petition. "As NASA turns its efforts back towards the Moon and Mars, it is very appropriate that the nation establishes an official day of celebration for space exploration," the society said in a statement.

It's worth noting that the space-themed observances in April and October highlight Soviet achievements (although April 12 also marks the first flight of the space shuttle). May's Space Day, meanwhile, had its genesis in the timing of President Kennedy's 1961 speech that set America on a path to the moon. July 20 marks the day that America finally followed through on that ambitious goal - and thus has an edge over the other dates, at least as far as the U.S. space effort is concerned.

If you can't send a Space Day card, hold an Evoloterra seder or attend this weekend's NewSpace 2007 conference (with Aldrin in the spotlight tonight), there are still plenty of ways to celebrate Apollo 11's achievements:

  • Online: My personal favorite is our own "Voyage of the Millennium" audio slide show. You can click through historic images of the space effort, climaxing with Apollo 11 and moving on to the legacy of humanity's greatest voyage. Your guide is astrophotographer Roger Ressmeyer, who personally went through NASA's archive and selected the images that tell the story best. NASA's own 35-year commemoration, which includes a library of documents, still holds up pretty well three years later. And the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal is about as authoritative as it gets.
  • In print: Andrew Chaikin's "A Man on the Moon" is the best popular chronicle of the Apollo missions. For a more writerly approach, you can turn to Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff" or Norman Mailer's "Of a Fire on the Moon." But if it's pictures you want, "Orbit" and "Full Moon" have you covered. 
  • On video: If you're looking for a fictional re-creation of the great adventure, could check out "From the Earth to the Moon," the 12-hour HBO docudrama series that touches upon the early days of the space program, the Apollo 1 tragedy and the moon missions that followed. For a skillful blend of actual Apollo footage, you can turn to "For All Mankind," Al Reinert's 80-minute documentary. That 1989 film inspired what is arguably the best-known dramatic film about the moon effort, "Apollo 13."
  • At the movies: The marquee event is "In the Shadow of the Moon," a new documentary about the Apollo moon effort due for release in September. For those who remember the glory days, the trailer for the film alone just might bring a tear to your eye. The National Space Society is planning a series of promotional screenings, so now might be a good time to buddy up with the local chapter. If you can get to an Imax 3-D theater, you shouldn't miss "Magnificent Desolation." For filmgoers, it's the next best thing to being there. And NBC's James Oberg had good things to say about "The Wonder of It All," a documentary that is scheduled for special-engagement screenings in August.

What are your own favorite real-life space sagas, in print or on the screen? Pass along your recommendations in the comments section below ... and have a great Evoloterra weekend!