From a moon landing to today: 50 years of space exploration
As the N.C. Museum of History celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon, visitors learned how one small step started, in part, here.
Tents lined Bicentennial Plaza Saturday with activities such as a bungee jump station and a virtual reality learning lab that simulated the lunar landing, all part of the One Giant Leap Festival. Visitors received free admission to exhibits, demonstrations and talks about space travel by NASA Solar System Ambassadors.
The festival was part of a joint project called Lift Off NC, a year-long effort across several different organizations to celebrate the anniversary of Apollo 11. In addition to the Museum of History, the Marbles Kids Museum, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, Museum of Life and Science, N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, NC Space Grant and the N.C. Symphony participated.
“The whole purpose of the exhibit we did, ‘One Giant Leap,’ was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon and the activities that North Carolinians were involved in,” museum director Ken Howard said.
Over 6,000 people signed up for the festival, Howard said. Participants could take a picture with a life-size cardboard astronaut or board a Gemini training module, or immerse themselves in North Carolina’s intertwined history with NASA, especially around Apollo 11.
Bonnie Weger, from Wendell, said her father served in the Apollo 11 recovery, and the moon-landing anniversary was a “family event.”
“Getting to hear all the North Carolina attachments, from the mission control patches being from North Carolina, the flag on the moon being from North Carolina, [pilot] Charlie Duke being from North Carolina,” Weger said. “It’s an integral part, North Carolina’s connection to (the moon landing.”
The museum’s exhibit, open until Jan. 4, features artifacts from the Space Race, including a spacesuit worn by astronaut Buzz Aldrin and the spacecraft that Ham the chimpanzee rode into space and back as the first hominid to survive space. Ham went on to retire in the North Carolina Zoo after his triumphant journey.
North Carolina was home to many important space exploration figures. UNC’s Morehead Planetarium was the training site for 62 astronauts, including those on the Apollo 11 mission. Christine Darden, a mathematician and engineer for NASA famous from the book and movie “Hidden Figures,” and Charles Duke, Apollo 16 pilot and the 10th man to walk on the moon, were both from North Carolina.
The patches the astronauts wear into space are actually manufactured in North Carolina. A-B Emblem, the sole contractor for NASA emblems since 1971, is a family-owned business based in Weaverville. It was present at the festival, and onlookers were able to see the company’s embroidery machine make an emblem just like the historic ones.
“We’ve been making mission patches for the astronauts since day one,” said Andrew Nagle, the Co-CEO of Conrad Industries, the company that owns A-B Emblem.
Nagle said his brother-in-law used to sneak into the factory to run his hands over the patches, “hoping to get his DNA” on them, so a part of him could go to space.
“The astronauts design them. It’s really important to them that they have a logo and insignia that represent what they’re doing,” he said. “They would actually fly out to the Asheville airport and come to the factory in Weaverville and work with our designers to make an embroidable patch.”
While festival-goers were not able to design their own patches, they were able to take one home that was just like the what astronauts wore.
“I think it’s great that the museum sponsors free events to have people come downtown and just be in communication with each other,” visitor Kate Griffith said..