Auburn University to commemorate 40th anniversary of first moon landing

AUBURN – To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, Auburn University will present “The Eagle has Landed at Auburn,” a free, public symposium, beginning at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 16.

The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art will host lectures and book signings throughout the day. A film screening at 7 p.m. in the ballroom of the Auburn University Student Center will include footage of news coverage and a documentary film.

The first moon landing mission was flown by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins in July 1969. Jim Hansen, an Auburn University history professor who organized this commemorative event, said that no worldwide celebration of humankind’s greatest adventure should unfold without spotlighting the Auburn community’s direct connection to the effort. Hansen wrote “First Man,” a biography of Neil Armstrong, and is director of Auburn’s Honors College.

“Many Auburn University graduates in engineering, science and business have excelled in careers related to aeronautics and space,” said Hansen. “Auburn has produced not only six of our country’s astronauts but also three graduates who served as directors of the Kennedy Space Center, the moon mission launch site. One of those astronauts, “TK” Mattingly, traveled to the moon in April of 1972 as command module pilot for Apollo 16.”

The morning’s keynote speaker will be Michael Griffin, a former NASA administrator who now teaches engineering at the University of Alabama at Huntsville. Griffin will speak on “Keys to Apollo’s Success and What They Should Mean for Our Future in Space.” Richard Miller, an astrophysicist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, will then present “Why the Moon is Important,” an analysis of what the science community knows about the moon, what it still wants to know about our nearest neighbor and what that knowledge tells us about planet Earth, our solar system and galaxy and humankind’s place in the universe. Roy Hartfield, an Auburn aerospace engineering professor, will give an evaluation of “The Genius of the Saturn V.” Christian Gelzer, the chief historian at NASA Dryden Research Center in California, will present “The Eagle Has Wings,” a talk on the genesis of the Apollo lunar landing vehicle.

At 1:15 p.m., speakers who have authored recent books, including Griffin, Hansen, Rahman and Gelzer, will be available to autograph their books. Copies will be on sale at the Jule Collins Smith Museum.

The afternoon talks will begin at 1:45 p.m. with the presentation, “Behind the Scenes and Unsung Heroes of the Moon Landings,” by Andrew Baird, a Columbus State University history instructor and Auburn University doctoral candidate. Author Tahir Rahman will then discuss “We Came in Peace for All Mankind: The Untold Story of the Apollo 11 Silicon Disk.” This talk is about the disk left on the lunar surface by Armstrong and Aldrin carrying goodwill statements by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon along with messages from leaders of 73 other countries. Hansen will wrap up the afternoon session with a presentation on “The First Men on the Moon as Global Icons.”

During the evening program at the Student Center, two films will be shown: a video of the CBS News coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the 1970 documentary “Moonwalk One.” Hansen said the latter film, recently restored and remastered, deserves to be a companion piece to Stanley Kubrik’s masterwork “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Guy Beckwith, an Auburn University history professor and science fiction expert, will introduce the film and offer brief commentary. Hansen said that “Moonwalk One” is not just a simple documentary, but a philosophical and poetic record of humankind’s first walk on another world.

“The 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 is a great time to revive this movie,” Hansen said. “‘Moonwalk One’ is a remarkable record of humankind’s feelings from around the world about the time when we first left our home planet and journeyed to another world. It’s been waiting, as if in a time capsule, for us to remove it in 2009.”

Symposium attendees will have the opportunity to record their memories of the first moon landing in a gift book for Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. Following the event, Hansen, Armstrong’s authorized biographer, will send the memory book to Armstrong at his home in Ohio. Armstrong will be 79 on August 5.

Sponsors for “The Eagle Has Landed at Auburn” include the Auburn University Honors College, the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts, Phi Kappa Phi and the Office of the President.

For a schedule of the day’s events, to view high resolution images, courtesy of NASA, and for links to more information, go to

Contact: Jim Hansen, (334) 844-6628 (, or
Neali Vann, (334) 844-9999 (