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Published: Monday, 7/21/2008

Ohio astronaut, '69 moon landing vividly recalled

BY LAURA BENNETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Gary Seils, a visitor from Chicago, with daughter Abigail, 3, and son Stephen, 12, peeks into the museum's Apollo command module mockup. The museum, owned by the Ohio Historical Society, is open daily except for Mondays.<br> 
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <font color=red><b>VIEW</font color=red></b>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20080721&Kategori=NEWS17&Lopenr=806776521&Ref=PH" target="_blank  "><b> Armstrong Air & Space Museum</b></a> photos Gary Seils, a visitor from Chicago, with daughter Abigail, 3, and son Stephen, 12, peeks into the museum's Apollo command module mockup. The museum, owned by the Ohio Historical Society, is open daily except for Mondays.<br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> <font color=red><b>VIEW</font color=red></b>: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20080721&Kategori=NEWS17&Lopenr=806776521&Ref=PH" target="_blank "><b> Armstrong Air & Space Museum</b></a> photos
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WAPAKONETA, Ohio - On July 20, 1969 - exactly 39 years and one day ago -the world stood still.

Around the globe, people watched in wonder as a grainy image crackled on their television screens: Neil Armstrong, almost 250,000 miles away, was taking his first steps on the moon.

The Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio, is a tribute to the adrenaline and awe that coursed through American veins during the years of the space race, with a particular focus on Ohio's contributions.

The museum, a massive white dome that looms over the landscape along I-75 in Wapakoneta, is designed to represent a futuristic lunar base, half above ground and half under ground.

"If we were to go to the moon and build a building, this is what it would look like," said Becky Macwhinney, historic site manager for the museum.

The museum belongs to the Ohio Historical Society and is funded by the state and by donations and contributions from the community and neighboring areas.

Much of the museum focuses on the experiences of Mr. Armstrong, who was born in Wapakoneta. He donated many of the museum's artifacts.

The exhibit includes items from Mr. Armstrong's youth, including a stack of his books, and features the sturdy black boots he wore in the Korean War. The rest of the museum essentially chronicles NASA's efforts to chart the vast unknowns of outer space, with passing nods to the former Soviet Union's parallel efforts.

A highlight is the spacecraft flown during the Gemini 8 mission in 1966, when Mr. Armstrong and pilot David Scott performed the first manned docking of two spacecraft.

"People are always amazed when they see how tight it was in there and hear that the astronauts were up there for hours or even weeks at a time," Ms. Macwhinney said.

Nearby is Mr. Armstrong's Gemini space suit, which is made of fire-resistant material designed to withstand the extreme temperatures of outer space. The glove's fingertips include miniature flashlights so that the astronaut could easily see the spacecraft's controls.

A focal point of the museum is a brief film that is projected in the cavernous, star-spangled dome. The movie chronicles Mr. Armstrong's career and details the Apollo 11 moon-landing mission.

An authentic moon rock, brought back to Earth by the Apollo 11 crew and about the size of a golf ball, is on display. "Here, you're inches away from a piece of the moon rather than a quarter million miles," said Andrea Waugh, the museum's education specialist.

Children who visit tend to be particularly enthralled by the "Living in Space" portion of the exhibit, Ms. Macwhinney said. Here, visitors can examine the tools that astronauts used for personal hygiene - mostly long hoses with rubber fittings - and the dehydrated food that astronauts ate in space.

The museum also features several interactive displays, such as a computerized lunar landing simulator and a surface resembling an air hockey table that simulates the way in which satellites are kept in orbit.

In the "infinity room," which is designed to give visitors the sensation that they are suspended in outer space, dizzying constellations of lights are reflected in a dark hallway.

"What I've been impressed with is just the courage of the people that did this," said Cindy Stein of Toledo, who watched the movie twice with her husband, Mike Stein.

Above all, the museum summons the anxiety and possibilities of those years, even for those for whom the moon landing is just a scene from a movie.

Doug Turpin of Lebanon, Ohio, brought his 10 year-old son, Mitchel, to see the exhibit.

"I was 6 years old when the moon landing happened," said Mr. Turpin, who is now a pilot.

"I remember thinking that anything that you wanted to be when you grew up was possible."

Contact Laura Bennett at:

lbennett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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