In less than two weeks, Flagstaff AZ Lunar Legacy will blast off. This 18-month-long event celebrates the area’s contributions to the Apollo moon landings of the late 1960s/early 1970s. These efforts came about as the result of a daring national challenge put forth by a man not normally associated with Flagstaff, but whose inspiring words molded the lunar heritage of this community.
On January 2, 1960, 42-year-old Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy announced his intent to run for the presidency. A month and a half later, the Arizona Daily Sun reported Kennedy’s plan to head to the Grand Canyon State to stump, stopping first in Flagstaff. Kennedy arrived at Flagstaff’s airport on April 9 and was driven to the Flagstaff National Armory (later the Furniture Barn and today the Natural Grocers), where a standing-room-only crowd of about 700 admirers besieged the senator for pictures, autographs and handshakes. After a continental breakfast, brief presentation, and more glad-handing, Kennedy headed back to the airport to continue his whirlwind tour of Arizona, first attending a luncheon in Tucson, then a small reception in Yuma, and a finally a rally of 1,600 supporters in Phoenix.
While Kennedy’s 1960 visit remains a fond memory for many Flagstaff old-timers, residents at the time couldn’t have predicted the eventual impact Kennedy’s presidency would have on the community’s scientific and economic development. This long-ranging effect on Flagstaff was galvanized on May 25, 1961, when Kennedy declared to Congress, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
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This set in motion a country-wide effort, with Flagstaff soon established as a focal point for Kennedy’s quest for the Moon. Local scientists and engineers created lunar maps, trained astronauts, tested instruments, and developed procedures for exploring a planetary body with 1/6th the gravity of Earth.
After Kennedy’s death on November 22, 1963, Flagstaff commemorated the slain president with such tributes as a plaque at the airport and a bust by young artist Charles Bonney, Jr., who also sculpted the buffalo statue that still greets hikers at Buffalo Park. The most significant homage, however, was the ongoing and dedicated effort by Flagstaff scientists and engineers that fulfilled Kennedy’s challenge on July 20, 1969. This is the legacy we will celebrate throughput the next year, with nearly 100 activities and community products.