Apollo 11 simulator blasts off in Pensacola

Heather Osbourne

NAS PENSACOLA — Ever dreamed of leaving Earth's atmosphere to explore planets beyond?

The National Naval Aviation Museum is making that dream come true. Well, sort of.

Space lovers can now walk in the footsteps of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during the museum's new Apollo 11 Virtual Reality (VR) attraction. The 5-minute, $10 experience includes climbing aboard the rocket — a row of 12 chairs facing a replica Houston Mission Control — where seats shake, pitch and roll to simulate the feeling of being hurled into space.

"If we were going to do VR here, we wanted something really special," said Phil Crabtree, general manager for Foundation Museum Support Company. "We didn't want just a bunch of benches against a wall. We wanted something themed that fit this world class museum. We came up with this concept of an open air VR attraction where people could actually watch other people enjoy it."

Once leaving the earth's atmosphere, riders get a 360 degree view of earth and space while heading to the moon. Animation of the historic 1969 landing allows guests to see what the astronauts might have witnessed and felt while on the moon's surface.

Actors dressed in white button ups and skinny black ties — even sporting '60s hairstyles — give museum guests a glimpse into what the flight controllers were experiencing from earth at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center during the moon landing.

"This year, 2019, will be the 50th anniversary of the moon landing," said Sterling Gilliam, director of the museum. "Naval aviation involvement in space if phenomenal. The first American in space, first American to orbit the earth for the Mercury 7, were naval aviators. First man to walk on the moon, last man to walk on the moon, all naval aviators.

"This is a prefect fit of the museum as we tell the wonderful story of Americans in space, specifically naval aviators in space. The Apollo 11 exhibit is great."

Riders, according to museum staff, must be 5 years old or 38 inches tall to ride Apollo 11 VR. All non-Department of Defense (DOD) ID holders must enter and exit through the West Gate of Naval Air Station Pensacola at 1878 S. Blue Angel Parkway in Pensacola. Guests aged 16 and over must have a valid photo ID to enter the base.