For most of his 51 years, lifelong Marion resident David Wendell has been infatuated with space — propelling his accumulation of memorabilia like an Apollo-era spacesuit, NASA flight artifacts, a moon rock and over 100 astronaut autographs, including from Neil Armstrong.
“I was wondering when I would have an opportunity to share all those things with the public,” Wendell said.
Such an opportunity is this month — 50 years after one of mankind’s greatest achievements.
“The 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I believe, is the ideal opportunity not only for the public to see the artifacts but to explain Eastern Iowa’s role in getting mankind to the moon,” Wendell said.
He volunteered to put together an Iowa Apollo 11 50th Anniversary exhibit at the Eastern Iowa Observatory on July 20 — the date in 1969 that NASA’s Apollo 11 mission put the first two humans on the moon.
Commander Armstrong’s first step on the lunar surface was aired to a worldwide TV audience, along with his description of it as “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Eastern Iowa’s fingerprint was on that mission and moment, and many other significant space pursuits before and since. So the observatory celebration is far from the only local Apollo 11 event planned around the July 20 anniversary.
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The Marion Heritage Center & Museum is opening Saturday its exhibition about Collins Aerospace’s role in the Apollo 11 mission, with a program planned for Sunday featuring famed University of Iowa NASA researcher Don Gurnett, who’ll share his memories of the space race and working with UI professor James Van Allen, who died in 2006.
On July 20, Collins Road Theatres will premiere a documentary, “Live from the Moon,” that tells about Collins Radio’s involvement in bringing the historic event to the public — including convincing NASA that a live television signal could be sent from the moon to Earth.
As part of Wendell’s free July 20 event at the observatory, he’ll give a keynote address, provide time after 8:30 p.m. for a celestial viewing, offer guests a complimentary Apollo 11 commemorative coin and conduct a poll for Iowa’s favorite space movie or TV series — from “Star Wars” to “Star Trek” to “Apollo 13” and the lesser known “Defying Gravity,” which starred Marion-native Ron Livingston.
Wendell said he hopes the events not only take Iowans who can remember where they were for that epic landing back to a time when America was united around one common goal, but educate younger generations on Iowa’s space contributions.
“By educating today’s youth about the efforts they successfully made 50 years ago, we can inspire those of the early 21st century to reach for Mars and beyond,” he said.
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Apollo 11 events
• Saturday, July 13: The Marion Heritage Center & Museum, 590 10th St., opens its newest exhibition — “The Collins Story: On the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing.” Arthur Collins dedicated his life to perfecting radio communication and building the Collins Radio Company, which invented space communication and brought images and audio of astronauts to the public for 50 years.
• Sunday, July 14: “From the Dawn of the Space Age to Edge of the Solar System,” from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Marion Heritage Center & Museum, will feature University of Iowa astronomy and physics professor Donald Gurnett, who will talk about the early days of the Iowa space program and working with famed UI professor James Van Allen at age 17, the Voyager 1 and 2 missions and the discoveries since.
Admission to both events is free, thanks to a grant from the McIntyre Foundation of Cedar Rapids. The exhibition runs through Feb. 29, 2020.
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• July 20: The Eastern Iowa Observatory and Learning Center, 1365 Ivanhoe Road, Ely, is hosting an Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Celebration from 3 to 11 p.m. Free and open to the public.
• July 20: The documentary, “Live from the Moon,” premieres at 10:30 a.m. at Collins Road Theatres, 1462 Twixt Town Rd., Marion. Doors open at 9:30 a.m.; free.
• July 22 and 23: The “Live from the Moon” documentary also will be shown in the Cedar Rapids Public Library’s Whipple Auditorium, 450 Fifth Ave. SE, at 5:30 p.m. July 22 and at 2:45 p.m. July 23; free.