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Kids And Grownups Alike Wowed By Rocket Projected On The Washington Monument


This week marks the 50th anniversary of the first time astronauts walked on the moon - the Apollo 11 mission. And in their honor, a life-size image of the Saturn 5 rocket that took them into space is being projected onto the Washington Monument. Martin Austermuhle from member station WAMU went down to the National Mall to find fans taking in the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Five, four, three, two, one...

MARTIN AUSTERMUHLE, BYLINE: As the sun set over the National Mall on Wednesday evening...


AUSTERMUHLE: ...Dan Larson and his family sat on a blanket facing the iconic Washington Monument. His daughter Alice is only 5, but she's no stranger to the epic voyage that took humans to the moon a half-century ago.

DAN LARSON: Remember at your camp you pretended that you were Neil Armstrong walking on the moon? And what would you say?

ALICE: Dad, you say. You say it.

LARSON: That's one small...

ALICE: Step for man - you say it.

LARSON: One giant leap for mankind.

AUSTERMUHLE: Braving sweltering temperatures and severe storms, large crowds have been gathering on the Mall all week waiting for the 363-foot-tall rocket to appear at exactly 9:30 p.m.


LARSON: Looks good. Oh, it's cool. You can see the oxygen venting on the side. What do you think now that you're seeing the rocket?

ALICE: It's Cool. Cool.

AUSTERMUHLE: For many of the younger folks in the crowd, the Apollo 11 mission is the stuff of textbooks and movies, but for others, it was a singular memory in their childhoods. Jim Asher grew up outside New York City and was at summer camp the day the mission started.

JIM ASHER: And I remember getting there that morning. And it was Apollo 11 takeoff. And they wheeled in this big old black-and-white TV, maybe this big, much bigger than we had at home. They wheeled it in, and we all sat there on the floor looking up at this TV waiting for the countdown.

AUSTERMUHLE: Susan Renko was 14.

SUSAN RENKO: I really thought that by the time I was old enough to buy a ticket that I'd be able to buy a ticket and go to the moon as like a tourist or just go there.

AUSTERMUHLE: She's still waiting. And she did get the next best thing. She works for NASA in Houston handling the agency's collection of moon rocks. Renko says it's hard for anyone who wasn't alive at the time to understand how important the Apollo 11 mission really was, but she thinks seeing a life-size image of the Saturn 5 rocket comes close.

RENKO: You can really see how it looks like it's breathing and coming to life. You can see the steam off the gantries and along the body of the rocket. So it's pretty exciting.

ASHER: I wish they'd actually be able to have it take off, you know, a video of it climbing the monument and taking off. That's my dream, like every 15 minutes, it takes off.

AUSTERMUHLE: Jim Asher won't get exactly that, but the Smithsonian has something close planned for Friday and Saturday nights - a 17-minute documentary projected onto two large screens and the monument recreating the full Apollo 11 mission.

For NPR News, I'm Martin Austermuhle in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Austermuhle is a reporter in WAMU’s newsroom. He covers politics, development, education, social issues, and crime, among other things. Austermuhle joined the WAMU staff in April 2013 as a web producer and reporter. Prior to that, he served as editor-in-chief for DCist.com. He has written for the Washington City Paper, Washington Diplomat and other publications.