Moon’s Pull on Earthlings Still Strong : Museum Celebrates ’69 Landing, Man’s Fascination With Space

Times Staff Writer

Singer Michael Jackson wasn’t the first “moonwalker” to capture the nation’s attention. Twenty years ago--on July 20, 1969--Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong mesmerized the world when he took his widely televised moon walk.

The Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center will commemorate that giant leap with “Moonstruck,” a weeklong celebration that opens today in Balboa Park. The Space Theater’s commemorative events will run in conjunction with 100 lunar celebrations around the country.

Astronauts, Moon Rock

The free symposium includes appearances by astronauts who played key roles in Apollo moon missions, a moon rock that Apollo XVII astronauts plucked from the Taurus Littrow region, a moon-gazing party in Balboa Park, a “space art extravaganza” for youngsters and a series of moon lectures by scientists, theorists and novelists.


Cynics might wonder whether such a relatively low-key remembrance will be swamped by the splashy wave of “Batmania” that is sweeping the nation. But professionals and academicians maintain that earthlings retain their fervor for space exploration.

That interest “might not be as public as ‘Batmania,’ but it’s a lot more substantive and long-lasting, and it’s certainly more profound,” said Bruce Cordell, manager of the Mars/Lunar Advanced Research Studies Program at General Dynamics’ Space System Division in San Diego.

Jim Arnold, a UC San Diego chemist who earlier this week returned from Washington, observed that the National Air and Space Museum there “is still the most visited museum in the world.”

“Space continues to hold a very strong magnetism for people, as is witnessed by the continued popular interest in astronomy,” said Arnold, who has spent nearly two decades studying moon rocks retrieved by Apollo astronauts.


Arnold, whose interest in space dates back to a childhood filled with Jules Verne novels, has been awarded an “Exceptional Scientific Achievement” medal by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. He also has an asteroid--"2143 Jimarnold"--named after him. He will speak at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Grayson Boehm Lecture Hall.

Revival Predicted

General Dynamics’ Cordell, who will discuss “Living on Other Worlds” at a 2:30 p.m. session Saturday in the lecture hall, predicted that the nation’s space program will regain momentum during the early 1990s, when President Bush receives a NASA recommendation that could include building a moon base to be used as a steppingstone for human colonization of Mars.

While Cordell, Arnold and others will discuss the future, two former Apollo astronauts will be talking about the past.


Retired Navy Capt. Ronald E. Evans, command module pilot on the last Apollo mission to the moon, will speak at 7 p.m. today in the Space Theater. Evans’ flight broke several records: It was the longest manned lunar landing flight (301 hours and 51 minutes); it collected the largest sample of lunar material (249 pounds), and it spent the longest time in lunar obit (147 hours and 48 minutes).

On Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Space Theater, former Air Force officer James B. Irwin, NASA’s “eighth man on the moon,” will describe Apollo XV’s lunar expedition during the summer of 1971. That mission included the first use of the Lunar Rover vehicle. Scott, who was lunar module pilot, explored the Hadley Rille and Apennine Mountains regions of the moon.

The celebration will have its lighter moments: John Mood, a local author and amateur astronomer, will use riddles and song during a 7:30 p.m. lecture Thursday that is designed for “lovers and other ‘luna-tics.’ ”

Children ages 8 to 12 will create a “spacescape mural” at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. Parental supervision and appropriate dress are recommended.


‘Moongazing Party’

The museum will host a “Moongazing Party” at 8 p.m. Sunday at the nearby fountain in Balboa Park. Dennis Mammana, the Space Theater’s resident astronomer, and several amateur astronomers will focus a number of telescopes on the nearly full moon.

“You won’t be able to see the flags and rovers that (astronauts) left behind, but you will be able to see where they landed, as well as some craters and mountains,” Mammana said. “The moon should be pretty darn full on Sunday night.”

For Mammana, the upcoming “Moonstruck” celebration stirred memories of when, as a recent high school graduate, he rushed home from a California vacation to view Armstrong’s walk from his family’s home in Pennsylvania.


“We were driving very quickly because we really wanted to watch it,” Mammana said. “We pulled in, ate supper, got ready, and there it was on TV.”

“I’d like to see more hoopla” about the anniversary, he said. “People have become terribly complacent about the idea of space exploration. The average person thinks we’ve gone to the moon and (consequently) we’ve explored the universe. We’ve really only scratched the surface.”

No reservations will be accepted for the programs, each of which will last about an hour.