Apollo 11 became the first spaceflight to land humans on the moon 50 years ago, on July 20, 1969 — scoring for America ultimate international bragging rights, furthering scientific advancement in a myriad of ways, putting into clearer perspective our collective place in the universe, and fulfilling an adamant promise made in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to do just that ”before this decade is out.”
After eight total days in space the crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, thus fulfilling the second part of the president’s famous promise, though he would not live to see it — that of getting back to Earth safely.
Thoughts of yesteryear
It was big news round the world, including here on Bainbridge, where a front-page story in the July 23, 1969 issue of the Review captured the reactions of residents.
Some, like Mrs. Wilbur Hewson, of Manitou Park, said it was hard to believe such a thing could really happen.
“It was almost like science fiction years ago,” she said. “Also, I listened to some authorities talking about the trip on television when they were telling of the benefits from the mission.”
The spoils of such a massive endeavor, immediate and long term, were on the minds of many interviewed by the Review, though some were more critical of the pageantry.
“Undoubtedly, they’ll find hundreds of things we can use here from rock samples and research, and some believe we’ll discover the mysteries of the universe,” said Ralph Cheadle, of Pleasant Beach. “I think the thing that upset me was that America was presented with a moment that could have been used more advantageously to better our situation here on earth.
“They could have used an international crew, for instance. They should have forgone that flag-waving and made it more a feat of mankind than a national triumph. It could have been more meaningful. As it was, it was an ego trip.”
Conversely, Mrs. Fred Younkman, visiting Bainbridge from California’s San Fernando Valley, said the whole thing was “wonderful.”
“I feel about it the way people of my generation felt about the Wright Brothers — we haven’t any idea how we can use the knowledge we’ve gained from the mission yet. We can’t visualize what lies ahead.
“I think it’s unlimited; what can happen because of the moon trip.”
Nobody was without a reaction. And be they joyous or wary, nobody could deny that the men of Apollo 11 returned home to a very different world, one that had been forever changed by their accomplishment.
World of the future
Well, sort of.
Because now, half a century later, with one of the three iconic shuttle’s crewmen passed away and a small vocal percentage of the population insisting the whole thing was a hoax, with distrust in government officials and societal institutions on the rise, and a resurgence of cultural upheavals not unlike those rocking the country in 1969, it is again a very different — yet strangely familiar — world that will pause to mark the historic anniversary on Saturday.
While those who lived through the landing, or who work in the world of science and technology, may have their own commemorations in mind, for the younger crowd specifically Bainbridge Island boasts an all-day lineup of lunar-themed offerings.
First, “Back to the Moon” will take off at Kids Discovery Museum.
Future space explorers and scientists, and their families, are invited to follow in the footsteps of NASA greats to discover mysteries of the universe with Dr. Erica Saint Clair of BPAstro Kids. And museum docents will lead space-themed science experiments, art projects and activities based on the curriculum provided by the National Informal STEM Education Network.
Featured activities are going on between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and are included with admission or membership. No registration is necessary.
“We are excited to highlight this momentous accomplishment in the history of science, and create an opportunity for families to practice critical thinking and scientific observation together, and inspire the next generation of curious learners — future space explorers and scientists,” said KiDiMu executive director Susie Burdick.
A stellar schedule
Space enthusiasts will kick off the festivities with a rocket launch at 10:30 a.m. to be followed by interactive “Hide & Seek Moon,” and “Stomp Rocket” stations (available until noon). They will discover different tools that help scientists study objects that are far away, from binoculars to powerful telescopes, and children will also learn about different kinds of spacecraft used by scientists to make new discoveries.
In the afternoon (from 1 to 3:30 p.m.) docents will lead “Land Cover” and “Static Electricity” stations, where families will examine how NASA scientists use observations from Earth and space to monitor the changes and make predictions about the future of our planet. They will also be introduced to the concept of static electricity and find out about the tools scientists build and use to answer specific questions and detect invisible forces on Earth and in space, and study how static electricity behaves — here on Earth, in space, and on other worlds, too.
In addition, a special hands-on project will be going on in the art room throughout the day.
For detailed schedule and latest information on Back to the Moon, summer camps, membership costs and other programs visit www.kidimu.org.
Later, at Ritchie Observatory in Battle Point Park, the fun continues with a moon landing anniversary party, set to blast off at 4 p.m.
Saint Clair will again be a headliner, this time as part of a special smattering of activities from BPAstro Kids (see www.facebook.com/BPAstroKids to learn more).
After that, starting at 5:30 p.m., the Battle Point Astronomical Association will host a double bill of documentaries — plus a stargazing session (hopefully).
“First Man” is a biopic on Neil Armstrong, showing the major events in his life prior to the moon landing. How does one become the first person to walk on the moon? Almost take the X-15 into the Pacific? Spin in Gemini 8 to near the point of blackout? Eject out of the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle? Watch and find out.
“Apollo 11,” produced by CNN, is a contemporaneous examination of the mission. Digging though the national archives, the filmmakers have found a treasure trove of previous unseen high-resolution images that bring the event back to life.
And later, stick around to observe stars … or maybe clouds … and/or rain. If the sky is clear, though, astronomers will be on hand with telescopes.
These events are free to association members, with a $2 donation suggested for nonmembers (or $5 for families).
For more information, call 206-842-9152 or visit www.bpastro.org.