WAPAKONETA — The Armstrong Air and Space Museum is more than a monument to Wapakoneta’s famous native who was the first man to step foot on the moon 50 year ago.
With its recently completed expansion, it’s also a space to inspire the next generations of innovators, in the aptly named Neil Armstrong STEM Inspiration Center.
“Today we honor a courageous Ohioan,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said during last Sunday’s dedication ceremonies. “A man who inspired us 50 years ago. A man who continues to really inspire us today. But today we also look to the future. It’s our hope and our belief that this center will inspire young people, maybe future Neil Armstrongs, young people who have an interest in science and math and maybe that will help spark something special in them when they come in here.”
The expansion will allow more teaching opportunities at the museum.
“The museum really suffered by having a lack of significant classroom space with capabilities. So it’s larger; there’s more we can do, there’s technology involved,” said Dante Centuori, executive director of the museum. “We really want to be able to reach more students and families with programs that can really focus on engineering and technology.”
Other needed updates were made.
“We also needed to upgrade the facility, so we have a new HVAC system and other systems with access and fire and security, so the things that visitors don’t notice was a tremendous part of this expansion. We’re really excited,” Centuori said.
This is only the completion of phase one of the museum expansion.
“We’re looking forward to adding more space for exhibit galleries and more exhibit interpretation about the wonderful air and space story here in Ohio,” Centuori said.
As part of the ceremonies at the museum was the unveiling of two statues, one depicting Neil Armstrong as a teen holding a model plane, the other as an adult in a flight suit prior to testing the lunar module mockup.
The statues were commissioned by the Armstrong family. Chas Fagan did the work on the statues.
“As a kid, he (Armstrong) would do models, and he would make these models. He would test the wing designs by tossing them out of his second-floor window,” Fagan said. “I totally approve of that. There’s a black and white photograph of a teenage Neil, and he’s got this model airplane. He just looks so prideful. He’s excited, and that is the dream I was trying to capture in this sculpture.”
The statue of the young Armstrong is at the end of the walkway leading up to the museum. The second statue of Armstrong in the flight suit is just to the right of the museum entrance.
The Armstrong family was more than pleased with how the statues turned out.
“I just want to thank Chas for his incredible talent, for his vision, really,” said Mark Armstrong, Neil Armstrong’s son. “He put together these amazing sketches, and he says, ‘I have this idea about starting out in Wapakoneta where Neil was a boy and just carrying folks along this pathway on the journey to the ultimate destination of the moon.’”
Armstrong thanked the community for its support in keeping his father’s dream alive.
“This facility is here because of the support of the people in this area who funded it, who worked hard to make it happen and they continue to do so,” he said. “The reason it’s here is because we all recognize the importance of inspiring our young people.
“That’s a challenging thing, and it seems to get more challenging every year, but you’re just looking to make one connection with someone — a little boy, a little girl that starts to dream, and those dreams carry them throughout their entire lives.”
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.