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Shooting the Moon

All these years later, and the memories are still as fresh as if it happened just the other day. That’s what a world-changing event will do for you.

“I remember it very well. It was between my junior and senior year in high school,” says Colorado Springs mayor John Suthers. “I had been elected student body president at St. Mary’s High School and was hosting an organizational meeting at my house for the new officers and class representatives. Then we all took a moment to watch it on a small, black-and-white TV set.”

Of course, not just any event can conjure memories this vivid so long after it took place. But when Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the Moon, followed by the iconic words “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” the entire world seemed to stop what it was doing to witness history.

If you were fortunate enough to share in that moment firsthand, you’ll never forget what you were doing that day, July 20, 1969.

“I was a newly ordained deacon,” says Most Rev. Bishop Michael J. Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs. “I was gathered with a group of young people outdoors. We managed to get a TV set out there, and we watched the landing together. It was amazing.”

Can History Repeat?

Apollo 11 certainly was an amazing achievement, the first of six missions over a three-year period that landed 12 American astronauts on the Moon. Apollo 17 served as the program’s last journey to the moon in 1972 as the space program took to a new direction once John F. Kennedy’s promise to win the race to the Moon had been fulfilled.

Since then, we’ve seen Skylab, the Space Shuttle era, Mir and international space stations, Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, along with the Mars exploration rovers, among others, and myriad explorations to the outer reaches of the solar system.

But no return trip to the Moon.

Been there, done that, right? Not so fast.

Going back 15 years to then-President George W. Bush’s “Vision for Space Exploration,” the Moon long has been a sought-after objective to prepare for future journeys to Mars and other destinations.

Yes, the Moon is still important. “There’s business to be done,” says Rich Cooper, vice president, strategic communications and research at The Space Foundation, which operates its headquarters in Colorado Springs. “The Apollo achievements were revolutionary and groundbreaking. There’s a lot more we know about the Moon today from the instruments and other satellites and craft that our country and others have put on the Moon. Now, we have more questions we want to get answered, and when you go to answer a question, it ends up creating others you get to ask. We’re about to open an incredible new book of knowledge to write in and inform.”

To that end, NASA recently unveiled an ambitious plan to return astronauts to the Moon with the Artemis program, a series of missions that ultimately will put its first footprints on lunar soil in 2024, more than five decades after the Apollo journeys.

In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister to Apollo and the goddess of the Moon, signifying the expedition to also put the first woman on the Moon as well. It’s all part of the bigger picture to broaden space exploration to Mars by 2033.

The Local Connection

And Colorado Springs is doing its part to educate and inspire the next wave of scientists, engineers, and astronauts who could end up on those future missions.

The Space Foundation, established in 1983, is a leader in space awareness activities, educational programming, and major industry events, including the annual Space Symposium. The Colorado Springs headquarters features a public Discovery Center, which includes the El Pomar Space Gallery; the Northrop Grumman Science Center; and the Lockheed Martin Space Education Center.

In 2002, the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado opened its doors in northern Colorado Springs. When there, visitors can experience a simulated space mission as a living memorial to the crew lost in the Challenger tragedy in 1986 and use state-of-the-art technology and space-like simulators to explore space as they apply math, science, and technology in a workplace of the future.

“We think about the thousands of people who worked in the program and the skills they had and translate that to the kids that come here,” says Becca Manis, local director of curriculum and outreach at the Challenger Learning Center. “They were explorers then, and we have explorers now who can be inspired by the events of the past to what we’re dreaming about, going to Mars and what the future is going to be. I’m excited because we see a flag waving toward the future and not just the past.”

Party like it’s 1969

Do you really want to experience the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the Moon? Check out these events in Colorado Springs and nearby on July 20:

• At the Air Force Academy’s newly renovated planetarium, take in the drama of Apollo 11, a 93-minute documentary released earlier this summer that features never-before-seen footage and audio recordings from the historic trip to the moon. usafa.edu/academics/facilities/planetarium

• Climb into an authentic Apollo-era mission control console during a family STEM open house at the Challenger Learning Center. Open to families of all ages, the event also will feature lunar-themed hands-on activities and planetarium shows. challengercolorado.org

• There’s a full day of family-friendly activities at The Space Foundation’s Discovery Center, featuring presentations and panel discussions with NASA astronauts and engineers, astronaut training for children, stomp and seltzer rockets, indoor labs, and more. spacefoundation.org

• Head to Denver for the Colorado Symphony’s Lunar Landing 50th Anniversary Celebration, headlined by renditions of John Williams’ scores from E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Wars, in addition to sung and spoken-word accompaniments. coloradosymphony.org

• Can’t do it all on July 20? Then the week-long Apollopalozza might be for you. See for yourself at one of the largest space festivals in the Rocky Mountain West at the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver. wingsmuseum.org