When NASA oversaw mankind’s first contact with a celestial body 50 years ago, the American spirit was energized by the potential of space travel.
That mythic moment when the Moon’s surface felt the footsteps of American astronauts on July 20, 1969, has been immortalized in our country’s history as a shining example of what our scientific aspirations can achieve. And now, with the half-century anniversary of this occasion just days away, Warwick will soon be the site of a celebration that pays homage to all members of the space program, both past and present, and the hard work that has made such incredible feats possible.
The Conimicut Village Association’s 50th Anniversary Moon Landing Parade will take place on Saturday, July 20, kicking off at 11 a.m. at Clegg Field on Winter Avenue. A march through the village will conclude at the American Legion on West Shore Road, where live music, food trucks and a craft fair will be waiting to commemorate the occasion.
The event will include activities for all ages, including face painting, climbing walls and a craft fair. Outside, the American Legion will also have drinks, hamburgers, hot dogs and other food available for sale, in addition to the several food trucks invited by the parade. Attendees will also be able to view streamed footage of the moon landing itself throughout the event inside the Legion’s smaller hall. All of these activities are open to the public, and limited seating and tables will be provided.
But it doesn’t end there; the parade itself will include color guards, local political leaders, the 88th Army Band, Miss Rhode Island, local scout troops, the Pawtuxet Rangers, floats containing models of the Apollo 11 Command Module that was designed and built by students at Toll Gate and the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center and the Saturn V Rocket, and many, many more participants from across the city and even the state. Motor vehicles from the Apollo 11 era, as well as antique military vehicles, will also be present for the half-mile journey through Conimicut Village.
The parade’s honored guest will be retired NASA astronaut Sherwood “Woody” Spring, who will serve as grand marshal and deliver an address to a crowd of parade-goers following the march.
A Rhode Island native, Spring graduated from Ponaganset High School and was accepted into NASA’s astronaut program in 1980. He flew on the second flight of the space shuttle Atlantis in 1985, where he spent over 12 hours conducting extravehicular activity, and launched four satellites. Spring currently serves as a professor at the Defense Acquisition University in San Diego.
This event has been in the making for almost two years, according to parade co-chair and organizer Lonnie Barham. Led by Barham and co-chair Doug Ray, the parade committee has been conducting monthly meetings at the American Legion throughout the planning stage.
“It’s going to be quite the fun and educational break,” Barham said, marveling at the hard work of everyone involved in making sure the parade would be a success. While initially planning to have a parade last summer to serve as practice for the real thing, the village association’s Moon Landing Parade Committee decided instead to focus all its efforts on the future in order to ensure a truly special 50th anniversary celebration.
Being the only planned parade in the entire country to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the world’s first moon landing is no small feat, and that parade taking place in tiny Rhode Island is just another extraordinary aspect to this already larger-than-life celebration. Local organizations and parade participants will get the chance to expand their ties beyond their state and country into the canopy of stars above. Barham speculates that this event could become a national talking point as a result of its connection to such a large, and ever-relevant, part of American history.
So, why is space travel so important? That’s the question at the core of this celebration, and one that Barham certainly has no trouble answering.
“I think it’s important that all Americans support NASA, so we can explore the galaxy and universe beyond,” he said. “Space programs have benefits for all of mankind.”
He added that it is important to never “stop or slow down” when it comes to our extraterrestrial expeditions, and that remembering our past space program achievements encourages future accomplishments.
“It’s just awesome,” Barham said, who is clearly passionate about the history and impending future of our nation’s space program. The parade itself is a labor of love dedicated to appreciating the inherent value of space travel and, outside of that, the wonders of science itself.
The parade is funded entirely by donations, which so far have covered the expenses of advertisement, transportation, sound equipment and much more. Barham said the parade would not be possible without generous grants from the Rhode Island Foundation and Sen. Michael McCaffrey, which total to $14,000, as well as additional donations from the community.
Those interested in learning more about the parade can visit moonlandingparade.org. The parade’s website includes a map of the parade route, a list of the parade’s participants, contact information, and much more.