Armstrong Museum breaks ground for expansion

By Bryan Reynolds -

WAPAKONETA — The Armstrong Air and Space Museum kicked off the Summer Moon Festival weekend with a groundbreaking ceremony for a new expansion.

The ceremony opened with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Honor Guard from Post No. 8445, of which Neil Armstrong was a life-long member, leading a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“In 1903, the Wright brothers flew the Wright Flyer for an amazing 4,000 feet,” said Dan Graf, first vice president of the Armstrong Air and Space Museum. “Less than a lifetime later, another milestone was reached. Apollo 11 flew to the moon and back, a total distance of 477,000 miles. In less than 70 years, that’s how much progress had been made in aviation.”

The Wright brothers were courageous men because they didn’t have manuals to help them figure out how to control their flyer. Instead they kept experimenting with it until getting it to fly. Than 66 years later, another courageous man, Wapakoneta’s own Neil Armstrong, performed another courageous act and took his first steps on the moon, Graf said. The crew of Apollo 11 completed the greatest journey in human history when they landed on the moon, he said.

“The impact of that journey was felt here in Wapakoneta,” Graf said. “Many businesses and streets used space names and space logos in their businesses because we were proud of our native son.”

That impact is still being felt today with the annual Summer Moon Festival in Wapakoneta. The celebration continues Saturday with a fishing derby beginning at 8 a.m. Kids Street on Auglaize begins at 2 p.m. and continues through the day until 9 p.m.

For those who have had their fill of horse racing, wiener dog races begin at 6:30 p.m. on Perry Street. For the daredevils in Wapakoneta, the Lunar Launch, a 300-foot dual zip line down Auglaize Street, is open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

On July 20, 1969, Gov. Jim Rhodes proposed the creation of a museum to remember all of the Ohioans who challenged the confines of gravity. The state pledged $500,000 to the museum project and Rhodes challenged the county to match the state so it could be built, which the county did. Ground was broken for the museum on April 16, 1970, Graf said.

“Here at the museum, we, too, invest in dreams,” said Brittany Venturella, museum curator. “We work to inspire generations from across the nation and hopefully the world to discover and explore the unknown, to collaborate and take on new challenges.”

The expansion will include a new 1,600-square-foot classroom with upgraded technology to provide a larger space for educational experiences, she said. The expansion isn’t just going to be a physical change. The museum will offer more digital learning experiences, as well. Educators will film programs in the new classroom, which will be made available online, Venturella said. Changes will also be made to some of the exhibits in the Early Space Gallery. An F5D Skylancer cockpit will be added to the Early Space Gallery as a starting point for talking about the important role test pilots played in the space program, she said.

“We will also be featuring two statues out front of both Neil as a boy and then during the Apollo program to show the journey of Neil Armstrong from his time in Wapakoneta to when he was landing on the moon,” she said. “That’s a way to welcome people to the story of the museum and what we have to share.”

Wapakoneta Mayor Thomas Stinebaugh, who is a member of the museum board, said the funding goal for this phase of expansions was $1.5 million. The goal is to have this phase complete for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission next year, 2019.

By Bryan Reynolds

Reach the writer at 567-242-0362.

Reach the writer at 567-242-0362.