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Charleston groups to host events in celebration of 50th anniversary of moon landing

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” Neil Armstrong said after becoming the first man to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. Now, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing has arrived and groups around the Charleston area are preparing to celebrate one of science’s most historic feats.

On Saturday, the Kanawha Valley Astronomical Society, Kanawha County Public Library and the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences are all putting on events in honor of the 50th anniversary.

KVAS, in conjunction with the library, will host an event called “Contact Light: 50 Years Since the Small Step” at Camp Virgil Tate, in Sissonville, where there will be a display of Apollo 11 memorabilia, telescopes and videos of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The group is also opening up its Breezy Point Observatory that houses a 16-inch Newtonian Reflector telescope for attendees to view the moon and the night sky.

Janet Erwin-Willson, president of KVAS, said she hopes this event will spark interest in the minds of families.

“We hope this event will provide an educational opportunity for families to learn about our moon but also celebrate that 50 years ago, three brave Americans accomplished something that had never been done before,” she said. “Many of our young people may know that men walked on the moon but not all the details about how difficult it was to accomplish it.”

KVAS has been around since 1954, when amateur astronomers working at the Union Carbide Tech Center in South Charleston formed the first astronomy club in the entire state.

Through its time, members have seen NASA get its start in 1958, space flight with the Mercury program, John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth, the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Space Shuttle program, the Hubble Space Telescope, landing on Mars and much more.

In coordination with the moon landing, the club will be celebrating its 65th anniversary, as well.

“During KVAS’s 65 years, we have been in awe of the incredible events that have happened not just in the NASA space program and space research but also in the field of amateur astronomy. Technology has improved so much in 50 years,” Erwin-Willson said. “A cell phone that we use today has more computing capability than the computer that was used for the Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969.”

Erwin-Willson said KVAS wanted to put on this event not only to celebrate scientific history but because one of its main goals is to promote astronomy throughout the state.

“We offer astronomy talks and host star parties for schools and other groups,” she said. “The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing is a special event, but we also wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate our own 65th anniversary as an astronomy club and give people the chance to come out and learn about our organization and what we offer to the Kanawha Valley.”

Stuart Frazier, marketing coordinator for the Kanawha County Public Library, said this isn’t the first time they’ve hosted an event like this, but this year it coordinated perfectly with the moon landing anniversary.

“We figured this is the perfect opportunity to go back again and have people come in and check out the telescopes, do a lot of crafts, do a lot of family events, see the stars and just celebrate this great anniversary,” he said.

The event also coincides with the library’s summer reading club.

“This is also something that plays into our theme for our Summer Library Club, ‘Universe of Stories,’ so we’re really focusing on space, cosmos and things of that nature,” Frazier said. “We feel like this is an opportunity for people to see further than they’ve seen before, see things that they’ve never seen before and sort of open up their world to new experiences.”

Frazier said not a lot of people get the chance to look at the sky through professional telescopes, so he hopes this will give the community a chance to do so.

The event is free to the public and will last from 7-10:30 p.m. at Camp Virgil Tate.

For those who may not be able to travel outside of the city, the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences will also host a variety of events on Saturday.

Hands-on demonstrations will take place at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and include activities such as simulating how objects in space impact the surface of the moon and make craters, simulating a moon landing out of paper, cardboard and marshmallow astronauts, activities with the phases of the moon, creating rockets made out of straws and more.

There will also be a special show in the planetarium at 3 p.m. that gives viewers an insight into the Apollo 11 mission and its influence on future operations, as well as more current events that have happened on the Moon.

“Part of the mission of the Clay Center is to inspire creativity, learning and wonder through experience in the arts and sciences. The anniversary of Apollo 11 showcases all of those qualities and so much more,” Morgan Robinson, Clay Center director of communications, said. “We are excited to provide interactive, informative and fun programming around this historical event to inspire the next generation of out-of-this-world explorers.”

Reach Jordyn Johnson at

jordyn.johnson@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5163 or follow

@JordynJohnsonWV on Twitter.

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