Wapakoneta Gearing Up to Celebrate 50th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong's Moon Walk
By Susan Glaser, The Plain Dealer
WAPAKONETA, Ohio – It was one small step for man, one giant leap for the western Ohio town of Wapakoneta.
Fifty years ago next July, Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon mesmerized the world – and put his hometown of Wapakoneta on the map.
The town hopes to reclaim a bit of that 1960s-era moonglow in the coming months, with a community-wide celebration of that famous July 20 event, and the man who helped engineer it.
“We’re looking at it as an anniversary year, quite frankly,” said Donna Grube, executive director of the Auglaize and Mercer Counties Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The months-long appreciation kicked off last week, with a red-carpet preview showing of “First Man,” the new film that recounts Armstrong’s role in the 1960s space race.
Alas, Wapakoneta does not appear in the movie, most of which is set in the Houston area. Still, community leaders hope that buzz about the movie will contribute to excitement about the anniversary -- and ultimately lead people to Wapakoneta, population 9,800, where Armstrong spent most of his childhood and first learned to fly.
Grube said several dozen bus tours are already scheduled to stop in Wapakoneta in late spring and early summer, with the 50th anniversary as the motivation for the trip.
The central attraction here: The Armstrong Air & Space Museum, which opened in 1972, and contains hundreds of Armstrong and space-related artifacts.
Included in the collection: a chunk of rock that Armstrong snagged during his 2 ½ hour walk on the moon; two spacesuits, including Armstrong’s backup Apollo 11 gear; and the Gemini 8 spacecraft, which Armstrong piloted in 1966 on his first space flight (and almost his last, as a malfunctioning rocket thruster caused the craft to spin violently until Armstrong regained control).
There’s also a shuttle-landing simulator, zero-gravity trainer, a 25-minute documentary about Apollo 11’s lunar landing and the recently restored F5D Skylancer, the experimental plane Armstrong piloted early in his career.
The museum this month broke ground on an expansion and renovation, which will double the size of classroom space, plus update numerous exhibits, according to museum marketing coordinator Olivia Nelson. The work will be completed in time for the anniversary.
The museum is also planning events and activities to commemorate the moon landing next year, though Nelson said details were still being finalized.
Numerous communitywide events are in the works, as well, including an art show, stargazing events, hot air balloon rally, a flower garden competition, cooking contest and the annual Summer Moon Festival.
The community commemoration will culminate in a week of back-to-back activities, leading up to the anniversary on Saturday, July 20. To keep updated on all the activities: firstonthemoon.org
Meanwhile, the Ohio History Connection, which operates the Armstrong museum, also is planning a year-long celebration of Ohio’s role in the space program at locations throughout the state. That effort kicks off Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23-25, at the Ohio History Center in Columbus, with space-themed programs and activities including talks from NASA Glenn Research Center engineers, films, theater productions, hands-on activities and more. For information: ohiohistory.org/participate/event-calendar/ohio-history-center/thanksgiving-fam-weekend.