WAPAKONETA — “T-minus four minutes!”
Dante Centuori’s voice boomed across the open field Tuesday morning. Dozens of kids lining the hillside of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta quieted down, waiting for the big moment.
Centuori is the director of the Air & Space Museum and he was anxiously counting down the minutes until the museum, which worked with the southwestern Ohio rocket model club, The Wright Stuff Rocketeers, to launch two water rockets (pressurized with bicycle pumps) and the main attraction — a Saturn 5 model rocket, at 9:32 a.m.
Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our morning, afternoon and evening newsletters
That’s two minutes after the museum was normally scheduled to open, but this was not a normal day.
Tuesday at 9:32 a.m. marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 space mission launch that carried the first man on the moon —Wapakoneta native Neil Armstrong.
Fifty years ago hundreds of stargazers, family and friends of the astronauts and curious minds alike gathered in Cape Canaveral in Florida, three miles from the rocket launch. On Tuesday, another crowd, gathered in Wapakoneta, were less than 30 feet away from the action, honoring the original NASA space mission.
“5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … ” the original Apollo 11 recording plays across the field where Centuori and The Wright Stuff Rocketeers set up their Saturn 5 model and water pressure rockets.
The crowd cheered as the model rockets take to the sky. The Saturn 5 made it roughly 200 feet up before making its sharp descent back to the Earth.
“Fifty years ago Apollo 11 was in orbit at this very moment,” Centuori said. “And today kids are gathered around watching this launch, playing with stomp rockets for the first time, learning about the very technology that Armstrong used in 1969.”
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, LIFTOFF!
Today Wapakoneta (Neil Armstrong’s hometown) celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch with a couple of water rockets and the main attraction: a Saturn 5 model rocket (center) pic.twitter.com/CBfywKala7
— Ceili Doyle (@cadoyle_18) July 16, 2019
Tuesday’s launch was only the first of several events of the day, including a rocket-making workshop at the museum and a speaker at 1:30 p.m., Mike Mallory, who was a part of the frogman crew that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule on its return back to Earth.
All of activities are a part of the “First on the Moon” 50th anniversary celebration, which culminates on Sunday, the day, all those years ago, when Armstrong became the first man to land on the moon.
“The 50th anniversary is a wonderful milestone,” Centuori said. “The town’s getting a lot of attention, but on another level kids are exploring rockets, learning about science. They may not be doing physics equations, but they’re interacting with Newton’s second law of motion whether they know it or not.”
“These could be future engineers here!” he added with a grin.