I visited the Armstrong Air & Space Museum with a group of friends and I’ll admit right off the bat: I am not always museum-friendly. But this place – nice. I hate to say it, but Out of this World.
The unassuming site (at least from 70 mph on the highway) is buried in a weird subterranean-like space, with a giant white dome dominating the center. Anyone who’s traveled I-75 through Wapakoneta has probably seen it. According to our guide, it was designed to resemble a possible moon or Mars base, including the long ramp leading up to the museum. At night the site is spacily lit with dozens of Earth lights.
Inside: all things Armstrong, all things space. Including an original Gemini space capsule, which Neil Armstrong piloted, narrowly averting disaster as it spiraled out of control in space. Armstrong’s childhood toys are on display, including a homemade wind tunnel, a homemade electrical generator and a copy of his favorite book, Young American Aviator’s Manual.
When discussion about one exhibit came up, my friend Mike Mainhart quizzed our guide, though barely gave the man time to answer. MIke, like the guide, knows his space. “Five-five sixty-one!” Mainhart exclaimed. “That was the day I was born.” He goes on to explain that his father was in the Navy at the time that Alan Shepard, Jr. became the first American in space aboard the Freedom 7. And his father, temporary tour guide Mainhart explained, was on the mission to pluck the space capsule, and Shepard, from the Pacific Ocean.
“I love this stuff, I really follow it closely. I really do,” he assured with a big grin, eager to move on and see more space junk.
Amazingly, patches representing every NASA mission are available at the museum for just five Earth dollars. The museum features a video monitor playing disastrous launch after disastrous launch, most ending, or even beginning, in massive, fireball-filled explosions. I had no idea how many rockets blew up during the effort to get into space. The museum also includes many pieces of space history, including Westinghouse cameras used on the moon, Armstrong’s astronaut suit and the Gemini VIII. The real one. From outer space.
And there are cheesy photo ops, where folks can be astronauts.
“Get in there Dottie!” Mike yelps as his wife squeezes into a space-suit-type photo prop. Shortly thereafter, he squeezes into a different one, placing his funny hat atop the helmet. Despite the hat and helmet, Mike is still one ugly alien.
The museum also features moon rock. The real stuff – not the moon rock that your neighbor’s uncle got from a friend whose cousin’s girlfriend’s father who worked at NASA has. It’s very un-amazing and it looks like, sort of, a black rock. But truly, it is of the moon.
“As old as you,” I said to my friend Fred Snyder, who stared at it a long, long time, barely frowning at my remark. And I really loved this rock, because it out-stared Fred. He finally backed down after about five minutes!
While there are plenty of things to look at, there are also things to do, such as watch the night sky or an Apollo 11 documentary inside the giant dome (Astro Theatre.) Outside the grounds are dotted with air and spacecraft and back inside, kids and adults alike can practice landing spacecraft with simulators.
The gift shop features all thing space, even if low-orbit. Like rockets, cards, books and other space-related goodies. The Armstrong Air & Space Museum is closed on Sunday from October through March and open seven days the rest of the year. For more information call 419-738-8811 or visit www.armstrongmuseum.org