It was 50 years ago last week that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon, but Kevin Millington remembers it like it was yesterday.
"I was 16 and I was working with my father during the summer installing carpets," said Millington, a past president and currently vice president of the Empire State Aerosciences Museum on Route 50 in Glenville. "We were working on a house in Albany, and the lady was so nice. We all huddled around her television set and watched it. I can remember them saying, 'The Eagle has landed.' "
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon is just one of the many options available to lovers of air travel and space flight this Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the museum marks its 35th year at the Schenectady County Airport.
There will be a continental breakfast at 8 a.m. to kick off the day's long list of activities, and at 2 p.m. Millington will give a short presentation on the moon landing near the Apollo Lunar Landing exhibit in Gallery II of the museum.
"I'm going to talk briefly about the three programs leading up to the moon landing, the Mercury, the Gemini and the Apollo programs, and then focus on the Apollo 11 mission," said Millington. "It'll be an overview of the space program up to that time, and I'll probably lead off with [President] Kennedy speaking before Congress and making a commitment to place an astronaut on the moon by the end of the decade."
There were six landing missions to the moon, according to Millington, and the ESAM exhibit has plenty of information on display documenting the history of space flight.
"This exhibit has been here for more than five years now, and I consider it a permanent exhibit," said Millington. "We have a NASA poster signed by all three of the astronauts on that first trip to the moon, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, and various other photographs of the flight crew. We have a remote-control rover, a simulated lunar landscape and a model of the lunar module. There's a lot to see."
There were plenty of people 50 years ago who thought moon exploration was too expensive -- and there are still some doubters who say the whole thing was fake.
"There was some criticism from poverty groups who thought the money could have been spent on other programs," said Millington. "There was also the Vietnam War going on, so we were not a unified country. But despite the criticism about the cost and the antiwar stuff going on, the moon landing did unify the country. It was a very interesting time in history, but for those eight days or so, the space program did unify Americans."
Meanwhile, people who think the landing was a hoax don't deserve much of a response, says Millington,
"That is ridiculous," he said. "Through a telescope and in satellite images you can see the evidence. They left the descent module there and when the ascent module was jettisoned the gravitational pull brought it back to the moon. You can see footprints. The evidence is overwhelming."
Millington is one of a large group of enthusiastic volunteers who keep ESAM running. He has been involved with the place since 2001, while Joyce Newkirk, currently treasurer and chief operating officer, was with the group when it was created 35 years ago.
"It was July of 1984 that we applied for a provisional charter and got started," said Newkirk, who said Carl Battaglia, James Delmonico, Steven Israel and former WRGB newsman Ernie Tetrault were the original four pillars of the organization. "I worked at a bank, so I know something about finances, and I was a person who understood the contracts we signed with the government, so I was asked to become treasurer and COO. But I'm still a volunteer. We do have three paid employees, but for 35 years it's been a volunteer-run organization and it's still run that way."
Following the kickoff breakfast, opening ceremonies will begin at 10 a.m. and include a performance by the SUNY Schenectady Choraliers. Helicopter rides will be offered between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and at 2 p.m. visitors will be able to use ESAM's flight simulator and experience the Simulated Reality Vehicle. The Adirondack Soaring Club will also have some of its gliders on display, and the public will also be able to view some of ESAM's featured artifacts such as the MiG from the movie "Top Gun" and a C-130 Hercules, one of three aircraft modified in 1980 to attempt a second rescue mission of the American hostages in Iran.
In conjunction with the 35th anniversary of ESAM, the new documentary film "Return to Hardwick" will be screened at the Scotia Cinema at 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Writer and director Michael Sellers will be on hand to discuss his film, which tells the story of the 93rd Bomb Group, arguably the most decorated and most effective B-24 bomb group of World War II.
"This is all an attempt to thank our community because we're still here," said Newkirk. "We're going to have discounted admission prices and plenty for the entire family. We're adding exhibits all the time, and we're showcasing aviation, from the very first flight through the space program. People still wonder, 'What is it that makes people fly?' That's what we're trying to answer, and we're going to keep on doing that. We also have some things coming up in the near future that will really add to the experience."
'Empire State Aerosciences Museum'
WHAT: ESAM's 35th anniversary celebration
WHERE: ESAM, 250 Rudy Chase Road (off Route 50), Glenville
WHEN: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $5 for adults, $20 maximum per family
MORE INFO: www.esam.org or (518) 377-2191