WEST JORDAN — Project Apollo ran from 1961 to 1972 before successfully landing on the moon 50 years ago. Its modular replica didn't need quite as much prep time.
On Tuesday children, county officials and even an astronaut gathered at Veterans Memorial Park to watch a model of the Saturn V rocket launch about 300 feet into the air.
"It was on this day, exactly 50 years ago, that the mighty Saturn V rocket carrying astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins left Cape Canaveral, Florida," said Clark Planetarium director Seth Jarvis at a commemoration of the Apollo 11 launch.
Jarvis noted Apollo's "trip to the moon that would require an additional four days" before arriving. He invited attendees to celebrate the first moon landing on its 50th anniversary, Saturday at the Clark Planetarium in downtown Salt Lake City.
The Saturn V rocket model was launched by Utah's very own astronaut and former senator, Jake Garn, with the help of Salt Lake County Council Chairman Richard Snelgrove.
"It's hard to describe how magnificently beautiful the Earth is from space," said Garn, who participated in the STS-51-D satellite deployment mission of 1985.
"You don't ever feel that you have the vocabulary to possibly describe what it's like," he said. As a young boy from Richfield, he would have never thought a space mission was in his future.
"I'd never even been out of the state of Utah until I was 19 years old," he said, recalling his enthusiasm after returning from a trip to Bear Lake.
"When I got home my mother said, 'Why are you so excited?' and I said 'Mom, we walked across the border to Idaho.'"
He said while up in space he had thought to himself, "Is little Jake Garn from Richfield, Utah, really up here traveling above the Earth at 25 times the speed of sound?'"
Snelgrove also fondly recalled his childhood in Utah.
"I can tell you where I was 50 years ago, when the first man landed on the moon," he said, noting that the successful space mission "unified the country (and) the world."
Snelgrove said he left his house after watching the landing on TV and grabbed his father's binoculars to "get a closer up view of the moon."
"STEM education is so important," the councilman said, lauding the Clark Planetarium for its influence on the county's youth.
"Who knows, maybe the future first woman or first man on Mars is right here from Salt Lake County," he said.
Dozens of families and space enthusiasts showed up to the event. Many wore NASA T-shirts, but the Chandler family took it one step further. Rebecca Chandler's four children — Clark, Samantha, Robert and Amelia Chandler — came to the event dressed as astronauts.
"We are going to be starting our own mission, we home-school, so we're going to be starting a Galaxy Quest to explore new worlds," said Chandler, explaining that she used to work as a rocket booster design engineer for ATK.
Jonah Steele, who is 10 years old, said he wants to be an electrical engineer when he grows up and was excited to shake Garn's hand.
After meeting one of his heroes, he said, "It felt really cool and different, something that I don't get to do every day."
Steele noted that he wants to be an electrical engineer because "I just like inventing things and making it different, changing things." He added, "I like rockets, because they fly up in the air but I don't really know how. They have engines and it's just cool to learn about."
After the main rocket launch, a number of smaller rocket models followed. The event also featured a straw rocket-making station hosted by the Girl Scouts of Utah.