Editor's Note — Turn to CNN for live coverage from Kennedy Space Center in Florida starting on Saturday morning through the Monday morning launch. Space correspondents Kristin Fisher and Rachel Crane will bring us moment by moment reporting from the launch along with a team of experts.
NASA is gearing up for its most consequential launch in decades, launching a rocket built to carry humans on an uncrewed test flight around the moon. It's the first major step for the space agency's Artemis program that aims to one day return astronauts to the lunar surface.
To commemorate the inaugural moon rocket mission, called Artemis I, watch parties — official and unofficial — are popping up all over the country.
It follows how space fans have commemorated other major launches, including the recent return of astronaut launches brought to you by Elon Musk's SpaceX. To be clear, those trips have taken astronauts to and from the International Space Station, which orbits just about 200 miles above ground.
Invited guests and NASA employees take photos of NASA's Space Launch System rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida in March.
NASA's new spacecraft, on the other hand, will be making a 239,000-mile trek to the moon. It's all a test run for Artemis II, which will have people on board and could mark the first time since the mid-century Apollo program that humans have traveled so deep into our solar system. (There are separate plans for a private high-orbit SpaceX mission slated for later this year. SpaceX will also be part of the Artemis effort, with plans to build the vehicle that will land astronauts on the lunar surface during the Artemis III mission.)
The big event, which will see NASA's Orion crew capsule launch atop a gargantuan new rocket called the Space Launch System, or SLS, is expected to kick off on August 29 between 8:33 a.m. ET and 10:33 a.m. ET. After liftoff, it'll be a few days before the capsule reaches its path around the moon, but there should be plenty of updates to follow during the spacecraft's 42-day mission.
NASA will be airing the whole thing online and will host a virtual watch party along with several other online rendezvous put on by space-focused organizations. But if you'd rather get decked out in your space-themed paraphernalia, pop some popcorn, and join in on the in-person festivities, we've got a state-by-state rundown of the major events across the country that you can attend. (Just keep in mind, there's still a pandemic going on.)
NASA allowed various groups and organizations to sign up to host official watch parties and offered up educational information for teachers.
As of Wednesday night, there were over 4,000 registered private watch parties — including events slated to take place in family homes, classrooms, schools and universities. And there were nearly 2,500 registered public watch parties slated to kick off at museums, NASA Visitor Centers, planetariums, and more, according to Patricia Moore, an Artemis outreach strategist.
NASA and others within the US government are hoping the event and the hype surrounding it will inspire a new generation of aerospace aficionados.
"The Artemis mission's goal of putting the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon represents a once-in-a-generation chance to inspire our young people to see themselves in space and in science, technology, engineering, and math learning," said Cindy Marten, US Department of Education Deputy Secretary, in a statement. "We're going to need the full spectrum of skill sets to meet the needs and challenges of the future—from physicists to welders. There is room for everyone in space."
US Space & Rocket Center • Huntsville, Alabama
Starting at 6:30 am ET, the US Space and Rocket Center will host space fans on its campus for an Artemis launch viewing. One big perk? The center is home to a Saturn V rocket — NASA's original moon rocket that powered the Apollo program. They'll air the Artemis I launch broadcast on a 34.5-foot-screen, and food will be available for purchase on site. Space costumes are encouraged.
University of Arkansas • Fayetteville, Arkansas
The university's science and tech club, better known as UARK STAAR, will be hosting a free watch party — with free breakfast — at the Greek Theater on campus from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. CT. The event is open to the public, though the free food is for students only.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor's Complex • Merritt Island, Florida
Long a favored watch site for rocket launches, members of the public can try to snag a ticket to watch the SLS rocket and Orion capsule take off in person at NASA's launch site in Florida. The website says tickets, which run from $99 to $250, are already sold out. But if you're in the vicinity of the Space Coast, take note that crowds of thousands have been known to flock to the public beaches — no tickets required — to catch a glimpse of major launches.
Infinity Science Center • Pearlington, Mississippi
Stennis Space Center, a major NASA campus in Mississippi, is hosting a watch party at the nearby Infinity Science Center, and there will be an array of crafty activities. Doors open at 7 a.m. CT.
Creative Learning Alliance Lab • Joplin, Missouri
The venue will start its youth-focused party at 6:30 pm local time at a cost of $5 per kid. For homeschooled students, the lab will also be hosting a live watch party starting at 7:30 a.m. local time.
Morehead State University • Morehead, Kentucky
Students will gather at the Space Science Center at the Star Theater in the Space Science Center, and doors will open at 7:30 a.m. ET. Note: That's not open to members of the public.
But Morehead has another option at the university's student center. There are 150 seats, and attendance will be free. The doors open at 7:30 a.m. ET.
Pro tip: Students at Morehead State University helped build a satellite that will actually be on the Artemis mission. It'll detach from the rocket and go on to spend about a year orbiting the moon evaluating how to transport water ice. Students will be gathered at Morehead to watch the NASA livestream of the launch.
Space Center Houston • Houston, Texas
Doors open at 5:15 a.m. CT. There will be giveaways and other activities. Pro tip: If you stick around after the show, the Space Center has an Artemis exhibit, and it's home to the newly refurbished Apollo mission control. Houston is, after all, home base for overseeing all of NASA's astronaut missions.
Evermore Park • Pleasant Grove, Utah
Hutchings Museum Institute is hosting one of the official NASA watch parties, complete with prizes and swag bags. It's free with registration. The event will run from 6 to 8:30 pm local time.
Interstellar Dreams Space Center • Reston, Virginia
Kicking off at 8 a.m. ET, the event will be hosted at Wiehle Reston Station. Up to 100 people can RSVP, and registration is still open on Eventbrite.
Spark Central • Spokane, Washington
Spark Central, a nonprofit based in Spokane, will host a watch party will take place from 12 to 3 pm PT.
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify the destination for SpaceX's private high-orbit mission later this year.