“Oh my goodness! This is so amazing. I can see the moon! I’m on the moon!”
Tamara Hansen wasn’t actually on the moon, of course. She was seated inside the Tuolumne County Library in Sonora at a folding table covered in a star-speckled, planetary tablecloth.
She raised her hands to a virtual reality headset while her children, Sam and Joy, sat beside her.
“It’s just amazing to me, even though you hear about it, read about it and see it in movies, you don’t know just how amazing the moon landing is,” said Hansen, 45, of Sonora.
Dozens of families attended the library’s “Moon Party” on Friday commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Though the majority of guests were children, many adults were fascinated by the technology that transported them to their childhoods and the live broadcast of the moon landing in July 1969.
“We were outside playing baseball when my friend’s dad came outside and yelled over to us, ‘Hey, they’re landing on the moon,’ ” said Jeff Tohurst, a Columbia College earth science and GIS professor.
“Everybody was happy and cheering. It was an amazing feat. Then we went outside and played more baseball,” he added, laughing. “But I’ll never forget it. It impressed me how important science was to achieving these things.”
Some children reached out and grasped the air while they engaged the virtual reality NASA moon app. They watched President John F. Kennedy from a 1960s-styled American living room, sat inside the Apollo 11 spacecraft during the launch from what was then called Cape Canaveral, now Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, and stared at Neil Armstrong under the lunar module Eagle on the Sea of Tranquility.
“It’s easier to understand what all the hype is about. It kind of gives you a way to experience what the astronauts experienced,” said Jeff’s son, Leo Tolhurst, 16. “I feel like a young kid again. After this, I get it, now I get why my dad became a scientist.
The goal of the event, said Tuolumne County Public Library Director Deborah Samson, was to connect the generations who experienced the moon landing with children who may be learning about it for the first time.
“I think it’s important at this time of year when we’re dealing with the budget for the community to see what a center the library is for all ages to access education and entertainment,” Samson said.
While a TV played Walter Cronkite anchoring the original CBS moon landing broadcast, most children huddled around craft tables dedicated to moon meteorites (a rock in cocoa powder), rotating star charts and mini-moon dioramas.
“I like the moon, because one side is light and one side is dark sometimes,” said Henry Weldon, 6, of Sonora, holding a small styrofoam ball he had colored gray, pock-marked with craters and set with an American flag.
Other children heard about a bowl of aptly-named treats somewhere in the building — Moon Pies, a classic chocolate, graham cracker and marshmallow patty.
“Where’s the treat?” Collins Ferguson, 3, of Sonora.
Her mother, Brie, 45, of Sonora, deferred and said, at least for this moment, the treats were out of her reach.
“They get to learn about history and learn about the moon. It’s fun and educational, and crafts are fun for her.”