Rocket City rocket scientists celebrate Apollo 11 anniversary - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Rocket City rocket scientists celebrate Apollo 11 anniversary

NASA leaders celebrated the anniversary and wondered about the future. (Source: WAFF) NASA leaders celebrated the anniversary and wondered about the future. (Source: WAFF)

Past and present Rocket City rocket scientists marked Huntsville’s historic role in putting man on the moon in a Space Exploration Celebration Friday night. It was 45 years ago that Apollo 11 landed on the moon on July 20, 1969.

At the Space and Rocket Center, NASA leaders celebrated the anniversary and wondered about the future.

“I’ll never forget it,” recalled former Space Shuttle astronaut Robert ”Hoot” Gibson, who was a young officer’s candidate at an airbase near Pensacola when he and some friends rented a motel room just to have a TV where they could watch man walk on the moon. “Wasn’t the greatest television in the world . We had to pile into his car and drive off to this motel and rent the place for the night so that we could watch it, but, unforgettable. Absolutely unforgettable.”

At the Space and Rocket Center, former, current, and maybe future leaders of the space program marked the Apollo moon landing by looking back at moments of sometimes triumph, and lots of nerves.

“Well, I was uptight,” laughed William Lucas, Former Director of the Marshall Space Flight Center.

“There were many of those that at the time scared us to death, but we learned from it,” said Jim Odom, former NASA engineer, who admitted he’s nervous today about the future of America in space as NASA deals with tight budgets and a low priority.

“It is worrisome that a great nation like we are should be leading in this area of technology as well as other technologies,” said Lucas. “I am concerned that we’re not putting enough emphasis on technological development today.”

“What are we offering the next generation and our kids and our grandkids?” Odom asked. “What are we offering them? If we’re not taking risks, if we’re stepping out, if we’re not building new programs and developing new technologies, which is what NASA was about.”

NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot, the evening’s keynote speaker, took a more hopeful stance, saying the United States is on course for a long haul era of achievement in space, if not the frenetic Cold War space race that propelled the Apollo mission from the Kennedy Administration to that day in 1969.

“Our goal is to carry on this legacy and continue what we think is kind of written in our hearts,” Lightfoot said, “To explore. That’s what we want to do as human beings.”

A longtime fixture in Huntsville and the Marshall Space Flight Center before he moved to Washington, Lightfoot said NASA is poised to build on the legacy of Apollo.

“When you look back on it at events like this 45 years later,” he said, “you start thinking where are we going to be 45 years from now and I think that’s what’s exciting because I think we’ll be on Mars and that’s where we’re headed.”

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