Six Rocket-Free Trips To Five-Star Space Destinations

NASA Glenn Visitor Center
NASA Glenn Visitor Center

Photo courtesy NASA Glenn Visitor Center

When it comes to exploring outer space, there’s a universe of options close to home.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park

Mackinaw City, Michigan (455 miles)

Along the shores of the Straits of Mackinac, straddling two Great Lakes, sit 550 acres of unspoiled wilderness. In 2011, the International Dark Sky Association recognized the area for its undiluted darkness, meaning that sky-gazers can observe annual meteor showers such as the Perseids in August or the Northern Lights the way nature intended.

Armstrong Air & Space Museum

Wapakoneta, Ohio (150 miles)

Just over the Ohio border, midway between Dayton and Toledo, lies the tranquil town of Wapakoneta, birthplace of Neil Armstrong. Showcasing artifacts from Armstrong’s military and aerospace career, including the Gemini 8 spacecraft and an Apollo 11 moon rock, the Armstrong Air & Space Museum also exhibits objects from Ohio’s other gravity-defying pioneers: the Wright brothers.

NASA Glenn Visitor Center

Cleveland, Ohio (325 miles)

Nestled between FirstEnergy Stadium and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland sits the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, one of just 14 such NASA sites. In addition to multimedia trips throughout space, the center features a giant airbag system (pictured) that was developed to land robotic rovers, like Mars Pathfinder, on the Martian surface.

Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom Memorial Museum

Mitchell, Indiana (88 miles)

Honoring one of the original “Mercury Seven” astronauts, the Virgil I. Grissom Memorial Museum celebrates the native Hoosier and the second American in space, who died on duty during Apollo 1 mission testing. On display is the Gemini 3 capsule that “Gus” Grissom successfully flew to three orbits of the Earth in 1965 while transporting a contraband corned-beef sandwich.

Adler Planetarium

Chicago, Illinois (180 miles)

America’s first planetarium is home to one of the world’s largest collections of historic celestial instruments, including an astrolabe from the 12th century. Don’t miss the 1,015-pound iron meteorite fragment that struck Earth 50,000 years ago, leaving behind the nearly mile-wide Meteor Crater in the Arizona desert. While visiting, check out Doane Observatory along the lakeshore for fantastic stargazing opportunities alongside spectacular views of
Chicago’s iconic skyline.

Holcomb Observatory & Planetarium

Butler University

Want to stay closer to mission control? Holcomb Observatory & Planetarium on the Butler campus features a gorgeous 38-inch Cassegrain telescope built in 1954 that recently underwent a $425,000 refurbishment for improved optics. Weather permitting, public tours are available most Friday and Saturday evenings. It’s the ideal spot to catch the April 2024 total solar eclipse, whose path of totality will envelop Indianapolis in darkness for four minutes.