Wyoming will celebrate a giant leap for mankind, the spirit of exploration and America on Thursday on its first Moon Landing Day.
And if a California-based filmmaker has his way, the Cowboy State also will soon be home to a monument to the Apollo 11 astronauts who made that historic journey.
Spearheaded by state Sen. Affie Ellis, R-Cheyenne, the Legislature passed Senate File 95 earlier this year, making Wyoming the first state in the U.S. to officially mark July 20 of each year as Moon Landing Day, in recognition of the first moon landing on July 20, 1969.
While not an official state holiday, Moon Landing Day is a celebration of discovery, Ellis told other members of the Wyoming Legislature when testifying for SF 95.
“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.
“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.”
Apollo 11 Monument
California-based filmmaker Steven Barber agrees, which is why he said he’s on a mission to build an Apollo 11 monument in Wyoming.
Having grown up a junkie for everything space-related and holding American astronauts as his heroes, Barber said he loves Wyoming for being the first state to recognize Moon Landing Day.
“If you can put a man on the moon, why can’t you build a monument to the first men on the moon?” he asked Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
He’s done it before. Barber raised $750,000 to build an Apollo 11 monument at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Now Barber wants to raise another $750,000 to replicate that somewhere in Wyoming.
Created by Loveland, Colorado, artist George Lundeen, the larger-than-life sculpture features 7-foot-tall painted bronze replicas of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins. With its 5-foot pedestal, the overall monument stands 12 feet high.
“I just kind of had an epiphany about monuments and thought it’s had to have been done,” Barber said about honoring astronauts. “I started Googling monuments and there was nothing. There was one at the Capitol (in Washington, D.C.) and one behind a Piggly Wiggly somewhere.”
A Passionate Mission
Barber said his passion for celebrating exploration and space may have been born during his childhood, but he said Wyoming has Ellis to thank for taking a small step for science by making Moon Landing Day happen.
“I love this woman,” he said. “I’m trapped in a city where they think the Kardashians are the end all, be all. America, unfortunately, has fallen. Affie Ellis is the first politician in our country’s history who’s saying this is the greatest achievement in the history of the world. She should be the next governor.”
Barber said he also considers the moon landing humanity’s ultimate achievement, and the people who volunteered to do it the ultimate heroes.
“We did it all those years ago and we haven’t done it since, and I’m not sure we’re ever going to do it again,” he said. “You have to have a set of cojones to get on a rocket and leave the planet. I’m not going to do it. I like gravity.”
Those like Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins “are my heroes,” he added. “They got in a capsule and risked their lives for $17,000 a year. They’re the greatest humans ever on the planet.”
‘It’s A Done Deal’
Although it will take $750,000 and a place to put it, Barber said Wyoming’s Apollo 11 monument isn’t a proposal. “It’s a done deal.”
“I’m going to do a replica there. Period,” he said. “This is real simple. I find a billionaire, he writes a check and I build it.”
He said compared to other celebrations, making Moon Landing Day a national holiday is a no-brainer.
“There are holidays for all kinds of crap, and you guys in Wyoming are patriots — it’s America, it’s Wyoming. You’re the only state in the union that has this incredible holiday,” he said. “I didn’t pick Wyoming, Wyoming picked me.”