A variety of events across Central Illinois will commemorate Neil Armstrong’s small steps that marked mankind’s giant leap 50 years ago this month.
Kicking things off, the group Astronomy on Tap will be hosting an Apollo at 50 event at the Broadway Food Hall in Urbana. A discussion from 6 pm to 7 pm will be led by Dr. Zachary Putnam, a professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Most of the events are happening on Saturday, July 20, which is the actual date of the anniversary. Much of the tributes are via showings of popular documentaries of the historic mission.
Also on July 20, the Illinois State University Planetarium in Normal will present a free showing of David McNab’s “In the Shadow of the Moon” at 2 p.m. This 2007 documentary film is critically acclaimed for its bringing together 10 of the 12 astronauts from the Apollo missions to tell their own stories of space exploration.
In honor of the Apollo 11 mission and the retirement of long-time director of the William M. Staerkel Planetarium in Champaign there are planned displays and presentations all summer long. In the lobby, there is the “Many Inspired Steps” exhibit that tells the big history of the moon mission starting with the mythology of Icarus all the way through to Apollo 11. Visitors to the Parkland College planetarium will also see a Lego model on display of the Saturn V rocket, a Moon globe showing all six Apollo landing sites, and a to-scale model of the Earth and the Moon.
A special reception on the evening of July 20 will commemorate the lunar landing and the retirement of the planetarium’s director and Central Illinois native Dave Leake along with welcoming associate professor Erik Johnson as his successor. Leake has served on the astronomy and physics department faculty since 1989. The reception will also mark the anniversary of the first public show at the planetarium in 1987. On July 23, Leake continues his Apollo-inspired tour and will share some rare archival images from the landing and a few stories of note at the Urbana Free Library’s Lewis Auditorium at 7 pm.
The Peoria Riverfront Museum, which houses the city’s planetarium, also has a series of special events planned on July 20. From 11 am through 2:45 pm, the museum’s Giant Screen Theater will be showing the film Apollo 11: First Steps Edition. Running concurrently to 2 pm is “Astronaut Training Day,” which will include a variety of kids space activities that is free for museum members. Then from 7 pm to 10 pm, the public is invited to celebrate with a throwback party and space-science fun for grown-ups. 60’s-era attire is encouraged.
Now, admittedly, while the lunar walk was only two hours long and there are only so many hours to pack in all of these celebrations, the fun will spill over into August. And again, props to Parkland’s Leake, who founded of the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society, which on Aug. 3 will host a free public open house at the Prairie Winds Observatory to see the Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of Tranquility.
Through August, visitors to the Staerkel Planetarium in Champaign can buy tickets to see the full dome movie Dawn of the Space Age that takes viewers from Sputnik through to privately operated space flights. And lastly, you can head to the Peoria Riverfront Museum for a less science-heavy celebration: “Wine & Cheese Under the Stars,” where on Aug. 16, from 7 pm to 9 pm, attendees can learn the history of the Apollo program while enjoying 90-plus varieties of wines and cheese.