RADFORD — The excitement of the first moon landing still echoed Saturday at Radford University.
A daylong celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission drew crowds to the university’s Center for the Sciences. At midday, attendees wandered through an array of demonstrations, exhibits and lunar landing-themed children’s activities, while a movie about the landing kept the center’s planetarium packed to capacity.
Tom Bland of Pilot said he recalled the furor surrounding Neil Armstrong’s initial steps onto the moon’s surface in 1969, just after Bland’s high school graduation.
“I remember being riveted to the television,” Bland said, grinning.
In one of the exhibits, two 50-year-old newspaper front pages trumpeted the astronauts’ achievement: The Roanoke Times’ lead headline was “Men Walk on the Moon,” while The Southwest Times went with “One Leap For Mankind.”
Bland’s grandchildren, Marley Gunn, 12, and Marcus Gunn, 8, who were visiting from Georgia, said they were enjoying discoveries of their own.
Marley closely studied a poster showing planets and stars and said that the best part of the exhibit was “seeing all the different things that are up in space.”
Marcus said his favorite part of the day so far was an activity station where children built rockets, then launched them with a foot-triggered air pump — “seeing how far they’d go.”
Near a table where attendees could gulp a quick glass of the space program-approved Tang orange drink, longtime Radford University geology professor Chester “Skip” Watts recounted his own two-fold connection to the moon.
First, the Watts Crater on the moon is named for Watts’ grandfather, also named Chester, who was an astronomer at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.
Second, early in Skip Watts’ academic career, about a decade after the Apollo 11 mission, Watts said he was certified by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as a courier for samples of lunar rock and soil. For a year or so, in addition to his academic work, he carried lunar samples encased in Lucite for display at public events across the country.
Couriers were not allowed to let the moon rocks out of their sight unless they were locked in a NASA-approved safe, such as at a hotel, Watts said.
Of the actual Apollo 11 landing, which occurred when he was a teen, Watts said, “I lived day to day watching this.”
Watts said he was listening as well. With TiVo and even video recorders still in the future, Watts said he made home audio recordings of the television news broadcasts so he could re-hear hours of CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite and his colleagues discussing the moon journey.
Radford Mayor David Horton, who also is assistant to the dean for the university’s Artis College of Science and Technology, paused from helping shepherd people toward another showing of the planetarium movie.
“This is a wonderful way to share information about what’s going on in the sciences,” Horton said of the day’s event.
The 1969 moon landing “set off the minds and imaginations” of a generation of students, he said. On a smaller scale, “the same kind of thing can happen here,” Horton said.