The Apollo, the Eagle, and an Astronaut

“With courage, imagination, and the will to explore, nothing is impossible.” -Neil Armstrong-

Those were the words that stuck with me when I visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week.  I will make a banner of Armstrong’s quote to hang in my classroom.  I will teach children about courage and teamwork.  I will teach children about America and history.

Apollo 11, heading for the moon in 1969

I have much to tell.  It’s a good story, and an important story.

My husband was a Naval Flight Officer, flying F-4 Phantoms in the 70’s.  His squadron, VF-41, is a band of brothers.  They have a reunion every three years.  This reunion at the Kennedy Space Center was hosted by Jon McBride, a fellow squadron mate, and an astronaut. Jon is from my home state of West Virginia.

He told his story of a kid who loved planes, and his first time flying in a plane.  The pilot did loops and other maneuvers, and Jon was hooked.  After college he started his Naval career, and his first (and favorite) squadron was VF-41.  He became an astronaut, and had the position of President of all the astronauts and cosmonauts.

I am humbled by this.  Even more humbling is that many of his astronaut classmates were aboard the Challenger.  His last flight was the previous one, and he knew Christa McAuliffe well.

Jon hosted a tour of the Kennedy Space Center.  And, oh what a tour it was! We began in the main entrance.

Booster rockets

Then we boarded the bus.  Jon was a great host, telling many stories.  When he told his fellow squadron mates how astronauts fly a modified plane to simulate  a space shuttle, there were plenty of oohs and aahs.  They understood the modifications and techniques, like thrust reversal.

The first stop was the Apollo building, and the area where people watch a space shuttle take off.  There are plenty of bleachers, three miles away from the launch pad.  “You don’t want to be any closer that that”, said Jon.  The area outside had a new monument to the astronauts who had landed on the moon, fifty years ago.

Monument to the astronauts who landed on the Moon

It is magnificent.  The inscription says “The Eagle Has Landed.”  How important it is to connect the eagle with this Apollo mission.  The eagle is the bird of America, our symbol of freedom and bravery.  Walking across the NASA emblem in the center of the yard felt like walking on hallowed ground.

There are no words to describe the magnitude of the enormity of size of components of the Apollo space program.  A picture is worth a thousand words.

Saturn V Booster Thrusters

Saturn V

Jon and his squadron mates are knee-deep in discussion

The astronaut’s gloves look a little creepy

The space capsule reminded me of R2-D2

Our next stop was the Atlantis exhibit.  The two movies educated people on the space shuttle and how it evolved.  Picture a guy in the 1960’s flying a paper aircraft to his fellow brainy science teammates (who can think outside of the box) and telling them to figure out how to get this into space.  The movies ended with the unveiling of the Atlantis.

Grown men cried.  You could have heard a pin drop.  No one realized the Atlantis – the real deal – would be there.  Right there.

That evening we had dinner at the Valiant Air Command Museum.  We had the whole place, with planes predominantly from Korea and Vietnam – the squadron’s era of aviation.

The F-4 Phantom.

I love this plane!  It is an F-11 Tiger.  It was parked at the entrance.

American history is important, and that’s much of what I teach to preschoolers.  History builds pride and goodness, doing the right thing, and helping others.  Our world needs a big dose of just that.

I will start teaching about the astronauts landing on the moon.  We will learn about the moon.  I will tell a Jennie “It happened like this” story, because I was there, fifty years ago.

Where will I begin?  With the eagle, of course.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in America, Early Education, geography, history, Inspiration, Learning About the World, military, patriotism, preschool, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

68 Responses to The Apollo, the Eagle, and an Astronaut

  1. Opher says:

    Sounds quite a visit!!
    I was lucky enough to visit the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. That was awesome.
    Space is the third to final frontier.

  2. GP Cox says:

    I got chills here, Jennie. I’ve been to Cape Canaveral and my parents allowed me to stay home from school for the launches, starting with Shepard. Hard to believe it was 50 years ago when Armstrong walked on the moon, eh?

  3. srbottch says:

    Fantastic experience, Jennie, and if anyone can teach the kids some history so it impresses them, you can. Maybe a trip to the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum near Dulles Airport in DC will be in store. They have a space shuttle mock up (I don’t believe it’s an original) .looking forward to your ‘reports’. And, what a poignant quote. I will use it. 👍

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Steve. I have been to the museum near Dulles- quite remarkable. But, this one had much more behind it with bringing history to life. It was certainly an experience. I will jump into teaching this in November, and will keep you posted. I knew you would love the quote. 🙂

  4. Norah says:

    What an amazing and privileged experience, Jennie. The children will love reliving the experience through your eyes.

  5. srbottch says:

    Jennie, I forward this to a friend, one of the ‘Bar Nighters’ and a Navy pilot bet, as well. He’ll enjoy it. Thanks for a great story. And, yes, KSC is a terrific place to visit.

  6. quiall says:

    So very much to be proud of! We must never forget . . .

  7. Your kids are going to love that story. ❤

  8. Dan Antion says:

    I’m glad you had such a good time, Jennie. There are so many stories to tell. I love the quote you started with, and, for me, the emphasis is on “imagination.” I feel like we are reducing the role of imagination in everything these days, and I don’t think it’s a good trend. I’ve been to the space center, and it’s so hard to capture the scale of those exhibits. I thank your husband, and all the people he served with. We owe them a debt we cannot repay.

    • Jennie says:

      You hit the nail on the head with “imagination” and how important it needs to continue to be. That’s the whole foundation of learning. Rote learning breeds apathy, and even worse. These astronauts and the space crafts were truly inspiring. So is the quote. Thanks so much, Dan. 🙂 We do owe those who serve(d) a great debt.

  9. Ritu says:

    Just awesome, Jennie, and so inspiring!

  10. Jim Murdock says:

    Thanks Steve,
    This a wonderful story in many ways. Great pilots, a great teacher and great aircraft and spacecraft.
    A long time ago I did fly the F11 Tiger.
    Wonderful plane.
    Thanks again.

  11. The U.S. has an impressive record in their space program. I remember the Challenger failure – cried for those poor passengers who didn’t make it – but they have had many successes too, which are amazing.

  12. beetleypete says:

    How cool to get a guided tour from a man who was not only a colleague of your husband, but had travelled in space too. That’s something to remember forever, Jennie. Your school kids will love that story!
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      You hit the nail on the head. I cannot believe this tour was conducted by a squadron mate, who was an astronaut. What a great guy. Yes, I will remember this forever. Steve will, too. And, I think I can teach some of this to my preschoolers. Oh, I forgot to mention that the night before the tour, Jon had everyone over at his house for dinner. He lives on the water with a straight shot view directly across to the shuttle launch. Wow! His daughter told us later how excited he was about this reunion. Best to you, Pete.

  13. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, how wonderful this is! Thank you!

  14. Maybe that quote explains why I’ve always loved the space program. What better way to represent that nothing is impossible. Wonderful post, Jennie. Hugs!

    • Jennie says:

      Yes!! You said it well. That quote should be plastered everywhere… because we all need to be reminded that nothing is impossible. Imagination is the foundation. So, now you understand why I teach preschoolers. Thank you, Teagan. ❤️

  15. Elizabeth says:

    We took our grandchildren there in February while their mom was at a training. We all had a terrific time. I was amazed that they had so carefully designed a place to satisfy all ages. They even put a slide to get from one floor to another for kids (and my husband!) to use.

  16. Great post, Jennie. I can’t imagine how wonderful it was to be part of the tour by Jon. The fact that he and your husband were squadron mates makes it even more special.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, John. I want to say ‘yes it was wonderful’, but wonderful is an overused word and pales in describing the event. I know you understand. Jon’s daughter told everyone how much the reunion meant to her dad. Squadron mates are for life. Hmmm… sounds like something in a John Howell book. 🙂

  17. petespringerauthor says:

    My experience is most children love learning about history when we make it come alive. What could be more alive than this? Of course, when we are passionate about anything with children, they are hooked. Isn’t that the best feeling, Jennie? I see the excited look in their eyes, and I feel like shouting, “Hold on! I’ve got a big one!”😎

    • Jennie says:

      Exactly!! Making history come alive makes it exciting for children, and they remember. They really do love learning. It is the best feeling, Pete. When I bring my passion to school, great things happen. 😀

  18. It looks and sounds like it was an amazing event. I got goosebumps! Starting with the Eagle is a great place to start.

    • Jennie says:

      It really was, Deborah. I think the Eagle is a great place to start, too. Then we’ll move to America, and then to the moon and space- with lots in between. I’m excited! 😀

  19. kevin cooper says:

    Awesome post! Loved the Apollo pic and the Saturn V vid. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Annika Perry says:

    Wow!! Jennie, what a superlative day and post! 😀😀 As a space nut I read this agog! How amazing to be part of a tour led by your husband with all these people with personal experience of the space program! Years of celebration and sadness! I loved the photos and videos, just awesome. Wow! How special to see the Atlantis unveiled. Overjoyed this morning to read about your special day … and I know you will bring the magic, fun and serious side of space to your classroom. You have the perfect start! 😀

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Annika! It was a day I will never forget. I was beyond humbled by the tour with the astronaut who was ‘there’ those many years ago, and just happens to be a friend and squadron mate of all the guys. Wow! I wish I had a video of the unveiling of the Atlantis. It was so well done that no one expected the real space craft would be there. The Apollo is where I will begin to teach children about the moon and space. I think we’ll have a 50 year Moon Party, and of course much more. 😀

  21. Oh, your children are going to be BEYOND thrilled!!

  22. Thank you for the wonderful information, Jennie! Think in future i should head over to see this in real. Indeed, great experiences for the kids.Best wishes for the weekend! Michael

  23. AK says:

    Very interesting, thank you.

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