By Rod King
Editor’s Note: Rod King is the author of a monthly column “Great Escapes” that will take readers to various locations throughout the country.
July 20 every year is the celebration of the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission and Neal Armstrong’s “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
To bring the enormity of that accomplishment into focus, plan a trip to the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio. The museum traces the event from takeoff at Cape Canaveral, Fla., to landing on the moon and returning to earth. In addition, here’s where visitors can get up close and personal with spacesuits, space capsules and a lunar sample (moon rock).
On that momentous day Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin undocked from Columbia (command ship) in lunar orbit and descended in the lunar module Eagle to the Sea of Tranquility. Six hours later, Armstrong became the first human to make a footprint on the surface of the moon.
The museum, which is located just off Interstate 75, is quickly recognizable. A large 56-foot white dome resembling the moon appears to be rising from behind the building. Inside the “moon” is the Astro Theater where the movie chronicling the Eagle’s dramatic descent to the lunar surface is shown.
Before entering the museum, check out the bright red and white experimental F5D Skylancer, which Armstrong flew as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Only four were produced. Also on display outside is the Aeronca Champion, the plane in which Wapakoneta’s favorite son learned to fly. He got his license at age 16 right there in that little Ohio town. Also outside are replicas of a Gemini spacecraft and an Apollo capsule.
Just three years after Armstrong climbed out of the Eagle landing craft and stepped on the moon, the museum was opened (July 20, 1972) and began taking visitors on a journey through aerospace history. Time lines document the progression of the space program and hands-on exhibits allow visitors to practice landing the lunar module and space shuttle or docking the Gemini capsule, just as Armstrong did in 1966.
In addition, visitors can maneuver the 1:4 scale model of the Martian rover. In the Infinity Room they can get the feel of walking through space surrounded by an endless sea of stars. Included in the many one-of-a-kind artifacts are the Gemini VIII spacecraft and Armstrong’s Gemini and Apollo spacesuits.
Armstrong’s family home in Wapakoneta has been preserved and has since been named Eagle’s Landing. Armstrong graduated from Blume High School in 1947. At Purdue University he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering. An engineering classroom building is named in his honor and a statue of him rests near the entrance.
During the Korean War he flew 78 combat missions, returned to college after service and later joined the National Aeronautics and Space Committee, which later became NASA. During that period he was an engineer and a test pilot flying the X-15, which reached speeds of 4,000 mile per hour.
The easiest way to get there is to take U.S. 30 into Ohio and follow it past Van Wert and directly to Wapakoneta. For more information, go to www.armstrongmuseum.org.