HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - When three astronauts blasted off from what was then called Cape Kennedy atop a Saturn V rocket on a mission to the moon, Huntsville played a major role in the trip. Soon, the Rocket City will be commemorating its history on the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing that was one giant leap for mankind on July 20, 1969.
"This is our story, this is our life, this is our heritage and our legacy," said Deborah Barnhart, U.S. Space and Rocket Center CEO.
On the USSRC website is a list of several celebrations planned in honor of the anniversary of Apollo 11.
Barnhart said you'll find more on the Convention and Visitors Bureau calendar. The events begin early in the year and continue through the anniversary of the launch, landing and splashdown.
Barnhart recalled a time when Werhner von Braun called on Huntsville to keep its dancing shoes at the ready.
"My friends, there was dancing here in the streets of Huntsville when our first satellite orbited the earth. and there was dancing again when the first Americans landed on the moon. I'd like to ask you don't hang up your dancing slippers," he stated as he was leaving Huntsville for Washington, D.C.
Barnhart said this is the year the city will honor that request.
"The week of the 50th anniversary, we are going to be partying in this town literally like it's 1969. What we want to do is claim the week, The Launch Day. That was the day that Huntsville changed the world," she said.
First is the Guinness Book of World Records attempt, followed by a Global Rocket Launch on July 16, 2019.
"What we want to do is launch the largest number of rockets ever launched simultaneously from one place at one time. So the Rocket City is going to set a record launching 5000 rockets at one time on Tuesday the 16th of July," said Barnhart. "Also on that same day, we want to use the reach of the Rocket City around the world, through the Space Camp graduates, teachers visitors, and friends and set a world record for launching the largest number of rockets ever launched around the world in 24 hours. We have many partners. Boy Scouts of America. Girl Scouts. NASA is going to provide the rocketry lessons for us. The AIAA is going to participate, AIA, and several other organizations around the world."
An Apollo Homecoming Dinner is planned, with the von Braun family as the guests of honor. Barnhart said the dinner would include astronauts, moonwalkers, and the people who worked on the program.
There are multiple panels to be held in and around Huntsville in honor of the legacy of Apollo 11, featuring many of those who were involved in the program too.
"There is a Legacy Committee to make sure we honor the people who really made this happen in our community," she said. "People who actually worked on the Apollo program will talk about the various aspects of the Apollo program and what they did. First person histories of what happened."
The dancing will come on July 19th, 2019, on what is called Dancing in the Streets.
"We're going to have a 'don't hang up your dancing shoes' party on the square downtown, there will be bands all around downtown," Barnhart explained. "There will probably be a short parade on that Friday evening, and we are going to party like it's '69."
That Saturday night, the actual anniversary of when the Eagle landed, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center will host a concert of its own: the Rocket City Summerfest Moon Landing Concert.
"While we are celebrating landing on the moon, we are going to have a huge concert around the Saturn V here at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center," Barnhart stated.
This won't just be a celebration of past success. Barnhart sees it as an opportunity to look to the future.
"Milestones like this cause us to stop and recognize where our city was 50 years ago and to think very seriously about where our city is going to be in the future," she said. "The fact that Huntsville took the world to the moon is remarkable in and of itself. But to think that today we are doing it again and planning to go on to Mars in America's next great ship, the Space Launch System is phenomenal. It is the story of our future in Huntsville."