WATSONVILLE — A half-century after three men set foot on the moon for the first time, a small group of students and their families gathered in the parking lot of Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds to commemorate the history-making feat in the most appropriate way they could.
After a countdown from 10, they launched a rocket into the sky – 856 feet, to be exact – the time the Apollo 11 spacecraft touched down on the lunar surface.
The rocket was loaded with three eggs to represent Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins, who were onboard the historic 1969 journey.
The students were from Alternative Family Education, a home-school group based in Santa Cruz.
That group participates in the annual Team America Rocketry Challenge, competing against young rocketeers from across the U.S.
Team member Hunter Bauman, 15, said the special launch was a way for the team to pay homage to the special day.
“It’s a pretty big event in history,” he said.
The rocket shrieked into the sky and safely drifted back to earth underneath two parachutes, also a nod the number that guided the astronauts into the ocean upon their return.
For team member Finnigan Cook, the launch is part of the team’s overarching mission to introduce rocketry to young people.
“It’s to show everyone what a group of kids can do,” he said. “Not many people know about this hobby.”
Friday’s commemorative launch was also a collaboration between Watsonville’s municipal airport and library.
The hope, said head librarian Watonka Addison, is to combine the information available at the library with the multifaceted aviation potential of the airport.
“I think it’s such a natural partnership to inspire youth in our community,” she said.
Airport manager Rayvon Williams said the launch is part of a weeklong celebration that includes a paper plane challenge on Saturday from 2-4 p.m. in the Freedom Branch library.
“It’s part of our continued community outreach effort to bring young people into aviation,” he said.