Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, jokingly suggested prior to the start of a committee meeting, taking up a bill she offered, that everyone in the room should get ready for a highly controversial subject.
But the bill wasn’t controversial at all.
In fact, it struck a chord with those on the Senate Minerals Business and Economic Development Committee, particularly those who could personally recall the historic significance of July 20, 1969.
That was the day mankind took “one giant leap” with the United States, which won the space race by safely landing the first men from Earth on the moon, firmly placing the names Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in the history books forever.
Senate File 95 proposes commemorating the occasion by naming July 20 as Moon Landing Day in Wyoming.
A Day When Time Seemed To Stand Still
“This was a day the nation stopped,” said Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep. “Literally stopped, and tuned in. It was a day of pride that, even as a little kid I can tell you that, well not a little kid, but a younger person. We were all really proud of what was happening.”
Chairman Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, meanwhile, recalled how his whole neighborhood gathered around a neighbor’s television set to watch as the nation made history with the lunar landing.
“He had (the television) outside with a bunch of lawn chairs,” he recalled. “He had it sitting on a table, and the whole neighborhood was gathered around, watching it. That was fascinating.”
Cheyenne resident Amy Giglevitch told the committee what she remembers about that day.
“I was about 11 when this happened,” she said. “My mom was a chemist, so she was very anxious about what was going on, because she kind of knew more than any average citizen would about what might happen.”
Giglevitch wasn’t worried though. As a small child, the moon landing was “the most exciting thing I remember, so I am happy we’re doing this.”
Not A New Day Off
The bill Ellis offered does not make a new state holiday. No one will likely get a paid day off as a result SF 95 if it passes, though Ellis said July 20 is right around the time of Cheyenne Frontier Days.
She said that many of her constituents might appreciate a day off then.
The bill just suggests that the governor issue a proclamation on that date — although it won’t require it.
The fiscal note lists no costs, monetary or otherwise.
Ellis’ idea for Moon Landing Day evolved as she considered ongoing debate, both state and federal, over whether America should celebrate Indigenous People Day instead of Columbus Day.
As a Native American, Ellis said she’s often wondered why that day should be celebrated. In her view, Columbus merely discovered a nation that was already occupied by other people.
Through research, Ellis found Wyoming has a Native American Day, which is supposed to be celebrated the second Friday in May.
Rather than wade into what might be controversial territory, Ellis thought instead about the celebration of discovery.
“As I started thinking about what discovery means, I think one thing that I’m really passionate about is space,” she said. “And the fact that we, our country, was the first country to put a person on the moon.”
People who were not born when that happened may take for granted just how amazing that was, Ellis suggested.
“In fact, when I think of all the amazing accomplishments of mankind, I think the moon landing is right up there, if not the No. 1 thing that we’ve done,” she said. “So, this bill is brought to you in that vein of really trying to celebrate this historic achievement.”
Plays Well With STEM
Ellis noted her bill meshes with existing educational goals to elevate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in schools across the state.
“This might provide an opportunity for student groups or schools to be aware of the importance that science and math and engineering played in getting us to the moon,” Ellis said.
She also believes the bill pays a well-deserved nod to Wyoming’s petroluem industry, noting the comments of a Petroleum Association of Wyoming representative who was in the room as the bill was being discussed Friday afternoon.
“I also read an article that there is a company based in Wyoming out of Campbell County that has been providing through mining and machining components that are used by NASA and have been propelled into space,” she said, appearing to reference L&H Industrial in Gillette.
“And so, as Wyoming is looking at diversifying its economy, manufacturing, mining, all contribute to space exploration,” she said. “And we should be proud of the fact that Wyoming has such a robust mining industry.”
Don’t Forget About History
The bill also offers opportunities to teach history, Dockstader pointed out.
“It’s fascinating they could do such a trip in 1969 with the engineering available,” he said. “And come back home safe.”
Teachers could use a commemorative event like the one Ellis has proposed in lots of ways in the classroom, he suggested.
“Teachers who are aggressive about their teaching can tie this into the conversation, and tie into everything that you just said, but also the fact that it was done decades ago,” Dockstader said. “They put another person on the moon in ’69. Incredible engineering from back then.”