No worries–the meteorites from the Moon and Mars orbited around the room solely in the hands of human beings to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing and first steps on the Moon. They had been brought to the library by Kevin Conod, manager of the Alice and Leonard Dreyfuss Planetarium at the Newark Museum, for a presentation he called “One Giant Leap.”
The exhilaration of the lunar landing still brings brings Americans together today, just as it did during that single giant leap from the ladder on the Eagle lander on July 20, 1969. Verona residents Stephen and Ruth Lepp had front-row seats at the library event to discover what meteorites looked like up close and even felt the heaviness of a chunk of asteroid. It took two hands to hold a piece found in Arizona that fell from the asteroid belt 50,000 years ago. The Lepps also studied the piece of Mars that fell in Northwest Africa.
Going Back in Time with Space
“It’s wonderful, I never did that before. It’s exciting,” Stephen Lepp said about holding the meteorite, recalling his first brush with the Eagle. “I remember when they were coming down on the first landing, they had fired the retro rockets on the lander. It was called the LEM—the Lunar Excursion Module—and they were broadcasting what was going on.”
“The astronaut was counting numbers, and I didn’t know what those numbers meant,” he added. “He was saying how many seconds of fuel he had left as this thing is coming down. I didn’t quite realize what that had meant, had I been aware, I would have been quite scared. And they brought it down safely.”
Lepp said he didn’t have a television for the original broadcast, so his neighbor awakened him to watch the Apollo 11 landing on her set. It was worth waking up for and catching up to his neighbor in pajamas and a robe.
“They brought it down to the surface of the Moon,” Lepp recalls. “It was very exciting. And they were walking on the Moon, Neil Armstrong. They were guys with a lot of courage, they were extremely smart, they were very capable, they were good pilots, and they got that thing down.”
A big screen in the library allowed the Lepps and other space buffs an opportunity to revisit those tourist photos taken by the original lunar visitors, and to notice photographer Neil Armstrong’s reflection mirrored in Montclair native Buzz Aldrin’s helmet as footprints were left on the Moon’s surface. The third astronaut, Michael Collins, orbited the Moon within the Apollo 11 Lunar Command Module waiting for his fellow passengers to return.
Conod, the planetarium manager, said the three astronauts often reminded the public that many people worked together to get to the Moon. While Mission Control might spring to mind like an astronaut’s first step on the Moon, meals that could go the distance needed to be prepared and seamstresses needed to sew spacesuits.
The recent book and movie Hidden Figures highlighted the strength of three brilliant African American women who rose in their careers and made an indelible difference in NASA’s space program. The Verona Library has many inspirational books about space, its exploration, and others who made the iconic moon landing come to fruition.
“There are all kinds of things to read about and learn,” Stephen Lepp said. Checking out a few more books on the counter of the recently renovated library, he said some gadgets aboard spacecraft were supplied from a company he worked with in nearby Cedar Grove, Servometer. “I’m a life member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers,” Lepp said. “I had a lot of fun being an engineer, I would do it again.”
Conod said that New NASA programs are adding to the space buzz, and shared images and facts about Space X, ARP 273, Pluto, and Jupiter.
“I was only three years old when Apollo 11 launched, so I was a little too young to remember any of the Apollo mission. I remember some of the later missions and I do remember my dad watching the news broadcast about the astronauts,” Conod recalled.
“I think at the time, I was still pretty young and I didn’t really quite understand exactly what an astronaut was, but then I ran in the kitchen, I looked up and there was a box of cereal on top of the refrigerator which had a picture of an astronaut on it, and it kind of clicked: ‘That’s what an astronaut is, he’s one of those guys who is on the Moon right now!”
New Jersey to Beyond: Lasting Results of the Apollo Program
It’s not too late to explore the work of engineers and other facets of Apollo 11 and the new adventures NASA envisions as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo program through December 2022: From July 1969 to December 1972, the program landed 12 Americans on the Moon.
A personal encounter with a meteorite is a bus or car trajectory away at the Dreyfuss Planetarium at Newark Museum. “We have a very nice sample of an asteroid,” Conod says, “a meteorite on display outside the gallery of the planetarium. It’s about the size of a basketball, and you can walk right up to it and touch the surface and go home and tell your friends you touched a rock from space at the museum.”
Through August 17, the planetarium is featuring two shows about how the Moon how inspired human creativity, learning, and exploration. The first, “Imagine the Moon” is a 35-minute show that runs Wednesday to Saturday at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. “It talks about the moon in general, the space program, and how the Earth and the Moon were formed in this giant collision that we believed happened,” Conod said. “And this is all due to the samples that we gathered during the Apollo program, so it’s a very interesting show.” The second, “Secret of the Cardboard Rocket,” plays at 2:30 p.m.
The planetarium’s gallery also features an exhibit called “Saturn: Exploring a Celestial Wonder.” It contains images of Saturn’s rings taken by the Cassini Huygens spacecraft. Conod said the rings have been around 300 million years and there are only 100 million years left to see them—they will eventually fall down because their icy structure.
Admission to the Newark Museum is free for members, Newark residents and college students, and active duty military. For others, the cost is $15 for adults, and $8 for veterans, seniors and students. Children 2 years old and younger are free. Planetarium admission is an additional $6 for non-member adults and $4 for non-member seniors and children under 12. For members, the tickets are $4 and $3, respectively.