Astronauts tribute, interactive exhibits part of 50th moon landing anniversary
BY PATRICK CONNOLLY
The Florida summer sun shone down on Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins as media and VIPs gathered for an event at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Apollo/Saturn V Center. Or rather a glimmering, bronze, 7-foot-tall rendition of them.
The Cape Canaveral center’s new statue was unveiled along with recent updates to the Apollo/Saturn V Center as the Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary approached.
Therrin Protze, chief operating officer of Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, said it’s like the bronze astronauts have a perfect view for watching the current rocket launches.
“As we were putting this up, we noticed how they perfectly overlook the pad. So as rockets go up, we even have Neil Armstrong shading his eyes from the sun as he’s looking up at rockets,” Protze said. “I do hope our future generations will be able to admire this for many, many years.”
Although Armstrong isn’t alive to witness the present and future of space exploration, his legacy lives on through the statue.
The statue, which also depicts Aldrin holding a painted American flag and Collins holding his helmet while proudly gazing upward, was a $750,000 gift from Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans.
It was created by Colorado-based sculptors George and Mark Lundeen and made a nearly 2,000-mile road trip to its permanent home.
The Apollo 11 astronaut statue is surrounded by a tribute to all of the crewed Apollo missions. The newly opened Moon Tree Garden features 12 trees, one for each of the manned Apollo trips to space.
Rosemary Roosa, president of the Moon Tree Foundation and daughter of Apollo 14 astronaut Stuart Roosa, said she has a personal connection to the trees planted in the garden.
“Inside the (Apollo 14) Command Module was a tiny canister of almost 450 tree seeds of five different varieties that represented trees that grew across the United States,” Roosa said.
“One such tree was planted here at Kennedy Space Center, and it lived here happily for 40 years until Hurricane Irma took it out.”
Trees and plaques
The original tree was a sycamore planted in 1976 during the United States’ bicentennial celebrations.
After the original tree fell, Roosa donated second-generation seeds, to create what NASA calls half-moon trees, and plant the Moon Tree Garden. A plaque in front of each tree details a different crewed Apollo mission.
“Hopefully, these trees can unite the world again through their beauty and their inspiration,” Roosa said.
The nearby Apollo/Saturn V Center has also received a facelift in the form of new, interactive exhibits.
Unveiled during a public “transformation celebration” last week, the reimagined exhibit floor provides visitors more touch screens and immersive activities than ever before.
One screen displays the site of each Apollo landing mapped out on the moon’s surface. Another takes visitors on an animated tour through the Vehicle Assembly Building and details the rocket-building process.
“The younger audience, they actually want to be more part of the display, rather than just reading a plaque,” Protze said.
Other changes include moving the Apollo Lunar Module down from its former home on the ceiling and onto the ground for closer viewing alongside 1969 newspaper front pages sharing the good news of a successful moon landing.
On a nearby touch-screen panel, guests can learn more about specific features of the module.
Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana, a former NASA astronaut and veteran of four Space Shuttle missions, was among speakers at the Moon Tree Garden opening ceremony. He talked about future trips to space, including those to the moon and Mars.
“As great as our last 50 years have been, I believe that our next 50 years are going to be even more phenomenal,” Cabana said. “We’re going back to the moon — not just for a two or three-day camping trip — we’re going back in a sustainable way. But we’re going back to the moon so that we can get to Mars.”
He reminded the gathered media and VIPs that, as a part of the Artemis mission, there will be astronauts back on the moon in 2024.
“I can’t wait to see that big SLS/Orion lifting off here at the end of 2020, early ‘21 on that first test flight. By 2022, we’re going to be flying with a crew around the moon,” Cabana said.
“In 2024, we are going to have the first woman and next man on the moon as Americans. We’re going to make that happen.”