At 10:56 p.m. July 20, 1969, from the lunar surface with a half a billion people watching, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong said the iconic words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Now half a century later, the Great Lakes Science Center celebrates the moon landing anniversary with its “Apollo 50 — Next Giant Leap” exhibit 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Considering the downtown Cleveland venue is one of 11 NASA Visitor Centers in the country, naturally the space agency was heavily involved in the creation of the anniversary weekend exhibit.
“With something of this magnitude, it’s somewhat difficult because obviously there’s only one NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, and there’s a lot of different events going on for the Apollo anniversary,” said Robyn Kaltenbach, Great Lakes Science Center program development manager. “We want to make sure the little kids have something that they can do, as well as the really diehard space folks who 50 years ago were watching on television.
“So we have NASA Glenn Research Center coming out to do a bunch of engineering activities. And because obviously the Great Lakes Science Center does hands-on better than anybody in Northeast Ohio, there are activities and large-scale demonstrations. Really, we have pretty much something for everybody.”
The two-day affair kicks off Friday with an 11 a.m. visit from astronaut Douglas H. Wheelock, who with one space shuttle flight and two expeditions to the International Space Station accumulated 178 days in space.
The different stations include the “Return to the Moon Engineering Challenge,” where attendees are encouraged to design their own helmets, as well engineer and test lunar rocket designs. They also can explore how atmospheric differences in space might affect life during a vacuum of space activity.
Naturally the star of the “Apollo 50 — Next Giant Leap” exhibit weekend is the Great Lakes Science Center’s own actual Apollo command module, which traveled more than 26.5 million miles in space. The attraction will be the site of scheduled “Apollo Chats,” in addition to live science demonstrations during the “Chemistry and Combustion Show” and “Lift Off Big Science Show.”
“The other thing that we’ve done is we’ve actually created a new program that dives really deep into the legacy of Apollo,” Kaltenbach said. “We talk about the process getting to the Apollo landing and what we learned, but also what we’ve learned since then. As a NASA Visitor Center, it’s really important for us to not only to look backward but to look forward.
“So we’re going to be talking to all of our guests about what would we need in order to colonize the moon. Also, we’ll talk about when do we think we may go back to the moon or even Mars.”
A perfect counterpart to the Great Lakes Science Center weekend is a viewing of “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition” in the Cleveland Clinic DOME Theater. Admission requires a separate ticket.
The DOME Theater’s six-story high screen and 11,600 watts of digital sound fully capture the cinematic experience that showcases the real-life moments of humankind’s first steps on the moon with a newly discovered trove of never-before-seen 70mm footage and audio recordings.
“It’s scenes and footage that actually brings you into those steps leading up to the mission and afterward,” Kaltenbach said. “That’s a nice way to maybe sit down and enjoy some popcorn and spend a little bit more time in a different capacity.”
While the scientific achievement celebrated in “Apollo 50 — Next Giant Leap” is quite obvious, Kaltenbach stressed there’s an important underlying message behind NASA’s entire Apollo program that she hopes inspires event goers in their lives.
“This is inspiring curiosity,” Kaltenbach said. “We really want our guests from all backgrounds, ages, experiences and interest levels to learn that without taking risks you’re not going to be able to move forward.
“Also, we really want to inspire our guests to become STEM confident, to be able to make informed decisions, but also to realize the impact that science, technology, engineering and math have on their everyday life.”
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