HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Friday, Huntsville hosted a big party on the courthouse square and eventually, through the rest of downtown, to celebrate the upcoming anniversary of the lunar landing.
Wernher von Braun once asked Huntsville not to hang up their dancing shoes: "My friends, there was dancing here in the streets of Huntsville when our first satellite orbited the earth. There was dancing again when the first Americans landed on the moon. I would like to ask you, don't hang up your dancing slippers. We all realize that the first lunar landing would be a hard act to follow. There is only one moon, and I am afraid we can't offer many more spectaculars like that in the years to come. The interest and the attention of the space program will now be turned to put all that new capability to use," he said from the courthouse square decades ago.
Now, Huntsville is honoring his request to start dancing again with its Dancing in the Street party.
We found Joetta Davis, a new Huntsvillian, in the streets for the celebration early on. "You're making history here. That's what this is all about," she said. "You just get out and take it all in like a sponge, just don't miss out on it."
She said her family has been watching the documentaries, U.S. Space and Rocket Center presentations, and attending this week's events and have really felt touched.
"We find ourselves crying," she said. "It's very special. I'd love to have been old enough to have understood it at that time."
As the dancing returned to Huntsville, the music joined food trucks, crowds, lights shows, moon ball drops, and more.
Billy Neal, NASA Retiree said of the event, "It's like taking an energy drink!"
Neal once worked in public affairs for NASA. "I was working when Apollo 11 went up," he remarked. "The first launch I worked was Apollo 8, man's first trip around the moon."
We found some current Marshall Space Flight Center interns at the party too, eager to enjoy history in this new way.
Kimberly Gonzalez said, "It's kind of like reliving the past and reliving what happened in 1969 and just being connected to that moment."
"How can you say no to being in Huntsville for an event like this anniversary?" Magdelena Allen added. "It's just so cool. The whole community here in the city, whether they were involved in the space program or not, is just incredible."
A team over at Polaris brought their Lunar Rover replica, which was definitely a star of the show. The team worked for nearly 9 months to make it a reality using parts to vehicles they already produce, along with retro twists to make it look as close to the original rover as possible.
"We purposely took components from all our vehicles because we wanted it to represent the whole company," said team lead, Bryan Ogle. "It has ATV parts, motorcycles, a snowmobile part."
Lots of research went into it, too.
"The curator at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center found the original fender molds. The ones that were used to mold the ones that were on the moon, and he let us check them out. We fiberglass molded the fenders off those original molds."
It was a joy, Ogle said, to see so many people coming to take pictures with it and watch it roll into the square with Mayor Tommy Battle.
Davis said the spectacle is part of what makes Huntsville great, and an excellent reminder of its past success.
"To see how Huntsville came about, really, this is just a wonderful place," she stated.
Allen said this big celebration, and the attendance, means good things for the future of space exploration: "Enthusiasm for the space program from the public is what kept it going, and it's what's going to keep it going now," she predicted.