One Small Step: Seeing the Moon Landing in Unexpected Places

Adler Planetarium here in Chicago is one of Elliot’s happy places. I don’t think his grin fades from the moment we walk in the door until we leave. He loves everything about Adler. One of the parts he loves the very best is the exhibit on the moon landing. He’ll tell you all about how “the capsule got hot, hot, hot when it was coming back to Earth, and it went splash in the ocean!” (There’s a real Gemini capsule on display). He’ll rush to the area with the Mission Control consoles and “call Neil Armstrong.” And he’ll stand right in front of the 60s-era TV set that plays a minute of the moon landing footage on a loop. He’ll tell you what’s happening, and he’ll wave to Walter Cronkite.

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All of this is adorable, of course, and it’s fantastic that Elliot already understands that people worked very hard to send astronauts into space so they could step foot on the moon. But I’m always most amazed with the connections he makes, and that’s why I was lost halfway between laughter and open-mouthed shock the last time we were in Disney World.

In Epcot, there’s a ride called Spaceship Earth… or, as I’ve affectionately referred to it for the last twenty-odd years, “The Big Ball.” It’s the giant geodesic dome that smacks you in the face when you enter the park, and it basically tells the history of human communication. Sounds dull, is actually super interesting. Elliot loves the ride, but when we last rode it in October, he fixated on something that might otherwise seem like a small detail.

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The picture above is a scene on the ride, where a family in an apartment whose interior design I covet is watching the moon landing on TV. Yes, it’s the same footage as that shown in Adler Planetarium. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, then, when Elliot rather failed at the “hands and arms inside the vehicle” thing to frantically point and leap toward the small TV set.

“There’s Neil Armstrong and he’s walking down the ladder and he’s stepping on the moon and there’s Walter Cronkite telling you, and hiiiiiiiii, Walter Cronkite! They’re watching Neil! Neil Armstrong!”

The enthusiasm was adorable, infectious, and just this side of alarming. But I realized something when this phenomenon happened for the fourth time (he really likes the ride). Visits to museums are great on their own, but they’re even greater when they serve as the foundation to a more holistic understanding of everything around us. I love that Elliot can recognize telescopes wherever he sees them. He should! He’s been through Adler’s telescope exhibit countless times. I love that he can watch Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson and point out galaxies, asteroids, Saturn, and the Horsehead Nebula. He should be able to do that after having the content reinforced so many times at Adler.

But the best way, as a mom, that I’ve ever seen him take Adler’s content and make a cool connection to it was when he saw that family on Spaceship Earth. He saw the NASA side of the moon landing at Adler, then he saw a family in their apartment watching it at Disney World. And that’s one giant leap for comprehension.

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