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Chasing the Moon: Inspiring appreciation for space travel

Jul 18, 2019

The Strasenburgh Planetarium at the Rochester Museum & Science Center is using the facility’s new digital projection system to show off a new program called "The Eagle has Landed," which re-creates what the Apollo 11 astronauts saw outside the window of the lunar module as they landed.

The show uses archival film and audio to enhance the experience for those watching the show.

Steve Fentress, director of the Strasenburgh Planetarium, is excited about the opportunity to show the lunar landing to a new generation. He remembers that when he was a boy, he watched the lunar landing on a small TV with his cassette tape recorder held up next to the speaker so that he could record the audio of that historic moment.

Fentress said the Apollo 11 mission is one of the most important events in human history.

“This was a special event in that it was the entire United States pooling everything it had, academic prowess, industrial power, all of it to achieve one thing together,” Fentress said.

Fentress said he realizes that social media may hold a greater attraction for a younger generation in some ways than revisiting what happened 50 years ago. But he is still hopeful this planetarium show can be inspiring.

“I’ve been in the planetarium business long enough to see how the public attitude toward this has evolved," Fentress said. "I think now at 50 years, we have a perspective where it’s more respected than it has been in the past. So this is going to be very interesting to see a new generation coming in and possibly appreciating this even more than it was appreciated back in the '70s."

Inspiration may be one of the hopes that officials at the George Eastman Museum have, but it’s also about looking back and trying to add context to what happened with the Apollo program in the 1960s.

The museum has a special connection to the moon landing since it's the former home of the founder of Kodak, the company that had such an integral part in the lunar orbiter missions. Those efforts mapped the moon in the mid-1960s, looking for a suitable landing site for the astronauts.

In its "History of Photography" gallery, the George Eastman Museum has a display that includes artworks depicting the moon, as well as examples of the actual technology used in the Apollo missions, including one of the lunar orbiters that didn’t actually get used as part of the series of orbiters that mapped the potential landing sites.

Lisa Hostetler is curator in charge of the Department of Photography at the museum. She said humanity’s fascination with the moon has been reflected by artists for centuries.

“The idea of light and shadow when capturing their effect has animated painting and photography -- and in particular photography, because people wanted to capture that realistically and accurately,” Hostetler explained.

Todd Gustavson, the curator of the technology collection at the George Eastman Museum, oversees a vast archive of cameras and related devices used in the history of photography. For this exhibit, he included a Hasselblad camera, the kind of camera used on the moon by the astronauts, using Kodak film, to document that historic mission. But the camera on display for this exhibit was not one of the cameras used on the lunar surface.

“The ones that were used on the moon, by the way, were left on the moon," Gustavson said. "They only brought the film back. They’re concerned about weight when they’re picking up rocks or what have you, they had to account for all of the weight that was on the orbiter, so the cameras were all left on the moon.”

Another part of the museum exhibit includes a model of a camera that Kodak made that the astronauts used to photograph moon rocks.

Gustavson said the astronauts were “basically using it somewhat along the lines of a walking stick, you just walk over on top of the various moon rocks and, ‘click,’ and again, this original was left on the moon. So this is a model and they only brought the film back, so again, it gave them 3-D anaglyph images of the various rocks on the moon.”

Gustavson said this exhibit shows the triumph of technology that was a big part of the moon missions, and how important Kodak was to that effort. He notes that it is still not easy to put satellites, let alone human beings, into space, and that should give museum-goers some appreciation for what was accomplished a half-century ago.

Hostetler said exhibits like the one on display now at the George Eastman Museum are a good way to provide some perspective.

“Fifty years ago seems like a long time in some respects, but in other respects, it seems like just yesterday," Hostetler said. "So it’s a good time, that 50th anniversary, to kind of take stock, and where have we come technologically but also culturally since that sort of landmark moment in time.”

Videography by WXXI's Martin Kaufman.

The Strasenburgh Planetarium at the Rochester Museum & Science Center is featuring a show called "The Eagle has Landed."

The George Eastman Museum is celebrating the Apollo 11 moon landing anniversary in its "History of Photography" gallery.