The year was 1969 and the mood was as high as the man on the moon. Neil A. Armstrong had done what no man had done before him. From his hometown of Wapakoneta, across the United States, and around the world, people wanted to honor his feat.
The impact of that journey is still felt in Wapakoneta today. Businesses and streets in the community reflect the pride the city has in its native son, the first person to walk on the moon.
On July 20, 1969, Ohio governor James Rhodes proposed a museum as a monument to the achievements of not only Armstrong but "all Ohioans who have attempted to defy gravity," as well as to the history of the space program itself.
After the state of Ohio pledged $500,000 for the museum, Governor Rhodes challenged the local community to match, dollar for dollar, the funds to build the facility. "Neil Armstrong is the man of the century and we want to perpetuate his achievements here in Ohio," Rhodes said.
Wapakoneta residents met that challenge head on. Businesses and individuals alike donated to the cause. Even school children saved their pennies and nickels in order to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime project.
When the governor returned to Wapakoneta, he was presented with a check for $528,313.55. Citizens of Wapakoneta had raised over half of the total cost.
Plans for the museum were unveiled during the groundbreaking ceremony in 1970. The design was unique. Earth was mounded around the steel-reinforced concrete building, giving the building the semblance of being underground. Designed to accommodate the Astro Theater for multimedia film and sound presentations, the central sphere dominates the entire complex. The fifty-six feet wide dome enhances the futuristic moon-base design.
On July 20, 1972, three years to the day after Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, the Armstrong Air & Space Museum opened to much fanfare. Armstrong himself was present to help open the facility, and Tricia Nixon Cox, standing in for the President, presented moon rocks brought back to Earth from the Apollo 11 mission.
As space exploration has evolved, so have the exhibits at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum. But the focus has remained the same: to stand not only as a repository of Ohio's aeronautical history and a monument to Ohio's contribution to aviation and space exploration, but also as a tribute to Ohioan Neil Armstrong, whose "one small step for a man" was indeed a "giant leap for mankind."
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The museum is owned by the State of Ohio, is part of the Ohio History Connection's statewide system of historic sites and museums, and is operated by the local Armstrong Air and Space Museum Association. Neil Armstrong was never involved in the management of the museum nor benefited from it in any way.
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