- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2019

The temperature flirted with a very un-Moon-like 100 degrees, but that didn’t stop hundreds of space-lovers from attending the Apollo 50 Festival on the National Mall.

Thursday marked the first day of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s weekend-long festival marking the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing on July 20, 1969.

Many attendees came decked out in NASA- or space-themed clothing, stopping at some of the more than 20 booths spread out between 4th and 7th Streets in front of the popular museum. Among the visitors wearing space-themed shirts with stars and astronauts were Jessie Atkin and Devin Symons.

Ms. Atkin, a Marylander, said she has been a fan of outer space since she was a 5-year-old, adding she uses that passion in her creative writing career.

“I wanted to be an astronaut in kindergarten, but then I got to middle school and struggled with math,” Ms. Atkin said. “I had to channel my interest in another direction.”

Mr. Symons grew up in Washington regularly going to the Air and Space Museum as a kid.

“When I was a kid, I got a copy of the space shuttle operator’s manual,” he said. “I used a refrigerator box to build my own space shuttle.”

Although neither were born when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first descended on the lunar surface, they grew up inspired by the Apollo programs achievement, and say they hope there are new moon missions and new chances for glory in NASA’s future. They closely follow the progress of Artemis, the new NASA mission designed to someday return Americans to the moon and to establish a permanent presence there.

“Look at what Apollo did to inspire all these generations,” Ms. Atkin said. “If Artemis works and we can get NASA off the ground again, that is its own inspiration.”

The festival booths featured pop-up NASA science exhibits that invited guests to explore the Moon-to-Mars program, space technology and how NASA technology is used in people’s everyday lives, among others. Attendees were also offered a large amount of free souvenirs including Apollo 50 posters, stickers, books and bookmarks.

NASA scientists and volunteers were there to answer questions and watch over activities such as building a rocket out of Legos and touching a real moon rock.

Brad Bole, one of the volunteers at the moon rock display, recalled his memories of the Apollo 11 moon landing. He was 15 at the time.

“My dad and I are sitting there, and you’re watching it, and you’re looking at it, and you’re like, ‘Wait a minute, is this real?’” Mr. Bole said.

He said he distinctly remembers Walter Cronkite’s reaction as he was reporting the new on the TV.

The famed news anchors was “taking off his glasses and he’s going, ‘Oh boy.’ He was like a big kid,” Mr. Bole said.

Another visitor, Brian Boyle, of Virginia, talked about how inspired he was watching the moon landing on TV.

“Everyone was afraid, you know, thinking, Are they going to live?” Mr. Boyle said. “It was kind of a unifying thing for the country.”

The Smithsonian and first-responders remained cautious with the heat outside during the festival. Those attending were asked to drink plenty of water, stay out of the sun as much as possible and were encouraged to take breaks inside one of the surrounded Smithsonian museums.

Medical tents were set up around the Mall with air-conditioning, water and emergency responders from George Washington University Hospital on alert with ambulances ready, if needed. First responders had to deal with a handful of people with heat exhaustion near the end of the afternoon, officials said.

Temperatures are expected to rise as the weekend continues, with the highest temperatures hitting Saturday, the official anniversary of the moon landing.

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