The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Moon flag
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon on Apollo 11. Since then, space advocates have been seeking some kind of holiday to celebrate not just that achievement, but also the future of space exploration. (credit: NASA)

Creating a July 20 space exploration day holiday

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On July 20, 1969, much of humankind witnessed on television one of the greatest events in world history: the first walk of astronauts on the surface of another celestial body. There was a spirit of great excitement and public support for this unprecedented event in world history.

In 1971, I felt inspired to promote a special day when the benefits of the space program would be emphasized, to improve public interest along with increased government support.

The great technological advancements required to accomplish this great feat stimulated the American and world economies. We might still be using mainframe computers and punch cards if it hadn’t been for the invention of integrated circuits needed for Apollo. That made personal computers and related technologies possible. Apollo also supported great advancements in medicine, fire safety, and many other technologies of benefit to all humankind, spinoffs that continue to this day.

But in the early 1970s, three Apollo lunar landing missions were cancelled, and public interest and government support was waning. The aerospace cutbacks even compromised safety for the workers and many thousands lost their jobs.

In 1970, there was an international Moonwalk Festival on Florida’s Space Coast to celebrate the achievement of Apollo 11. But that tradition eventually died out.

In 1971, I felt inspired to promote a special day when the benefits of the space program would be emphasized, to improve public interest along with increased government support. Ultimately, that support would enable people to settle the Moon and go on to Mars.

I decided to expand this into a week, which was known as the US Space Program Week. The first one was held from the second anniversary of the Apollo 11 landng through the July 26 launch date for Apollo 16. This event was held at Salt Lake City’s Hansen Planetarium. Attendance at that event was small. When I mentioned in a speech NASA’s planned future development of a capability that became known as GPS, a worker at the planetarium said he didn’t believe it.

However local supporters of US Space Program Week went on a local children’s television program, called “Fireman Frank,” and word of US Space Program Week was spread to viewers throughout the states of the Intermountain West.

In 1972, I contacted the nation’s planetariums and astronomy clubs, encouraging them to have US Space Program Week public events in their local communities. The NASA Ames Research Center Office of Public Affairs supported the 1971 Utah activities. Regional NASA public affairs offices were located across the nation. I encouraged potential participants to contact their regional NASA Department of Public Affairs Office to get support for their activities. NASA actually got upset with this, but Mike Donahoe, Public Affairs Officer at the NASA Ames Research Center, liked what was going on nationally, because it increased public interest in the space program.

We invited the Utah Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) to participate in the local activities. On July 22, 1972, we formed a new organization dedicated to the advancement of US Space Program Week, while promoting the space program, with a vision for the future. Ken W. Randle, chairman of the Utah Section of AIAA, suggested that we name the organization the Utah Space Association (USA).

Randle found corporate sponsors to fund taking Utah Space Association members as VIP guests to the December 7, 1972, launch of Apollo 17 in Florida. Unfortunately, Apollo 17 would be the last manned lunar mission of the 20th century.

Without congressional backing, President Ford, by executive directive, designated July 20, 1976, as Space Exploration Day.

In the spring of 1973, the Apollo 17 astronauts, Senator Frank Moss of Utah, and Congressman Olin Teague of Texas came to an AIAA Utah section dinner meeting. With my encouragement, Randle encouraged Moss and Teague to introduce a congressional resolution to establish US Space Program Week by Presidential proclamation. The name was shortened to US Space Week. David wrote the wording for the congressional resolution. AIAA sections throughout the nation were encouraged to have public activities in their communities.

Nationwide support from AIAA helped in gaining the support from their members of Congress to pass the resolution. President Nixon issued a proclamation for US Space Week, held July 16–24, 1974. Astronomy clubs and planetariums were contacted again, and AIAA sections throughout the nation had public activities.

Another congressional resolution was introduced in 1975, but since Apollo 11 was nine days, the name was changed again to the United States Space Observance. It didn’t pass that year, but finally did in October 1976. In the meantime, the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, became the first human international spaceflight, during the same time period as the US Space Observance.

In 1976, the resolution was not going to pass in time for the Apollo 11 anniversary. One AIAA Utah Section member, Jim Brown of Thiokol, was a personal friend of President Ford. Stan Martin, the director of the Viking Mars mission, showed support. It would land on Mars on the seventh anniversary of the first moonwalk. AIAA President Dan Fink recommended that a July 20 Space Exploration Day proclamation be issued. Without congressional backing, President Ford, by executive directive, designated July 20, 1976, as Space Exploration Day.

In 1977, I wrote an article in the National Space Institute newsletter, recommending the creation of a July 20 Space Exploration Day holiday. President Carter issued proclamations in 1977 and 1979, backed by Congressional resolutions, for the US Space Observance.

In the early 1980s, the nation’s governors were united in issuing state proclamations for the US Space Observance and or Space Exploration Day.

At the same time, an organization called Spaceweek National Headquarters, backed by what is now Lockheed Martin, recognized a 1975 event by the AIAA Los Angeles Section as the first local Space Week. The names of Space Exploration Day and US Space Observance were snubbed in favor of having their many participating organizations call the Apollo 11 anniversary Spaceweek. Later they left the Apollo 11 anniversary in favor of the United Nations emphasis on the anniversary of Sputnik, calling it World Space Week.

With Ken Randle’s help, I encouraged AIAA to change the focus from US Space Observance to Space Exploration Day. President Reagan issued Space Exploration Day proclamations in 1984 and 1985.

The L5 Society, which later merged with the National Space Institute to become the National Space Society, got the state legislatures of Arizona, Kansas, and Ohio to pass legislation to establish permanent July 16 through 24 state Space Observances and state July 20 Space Exploration Days. Ohio officially recognized Space Exploration Day as a nonpaid state holiday.

President George H. W. Bush issued a Space Exploration Day proclamation for July 1989. AIAA nationwide support started to lag on congressional efforts, since the same thing had to be done every year. Each resolution was only good for one year at a time. A two-thirds vote, required under a legislative procedure known as suspension of the rules, was required for permanent status. Martin Luther King Day had to go through that process to become a permanent paid federal holiday.

President Clinton named the nine-day Apollo 11 anniversary the Apollo 11 Anniversary Observance. This was a bit convoluted, but at least the nine days was recognized as an “Observance.”

In the meantime, NASA showed their support for Yuri’s Night, the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s historic spaceflight in April 1961. NASA also supported the May Lockheed Martin Space Day, and the October World Space Week.

The anniversaries of the Apollo 1 fire and Challenger and Columbia accidents all occur during the same seven-day period at the end of January and beginning of February. A Space Remembrance Day or Week would be appropriate for that time period.

It is possible for Space Exploration Day to become a popular holiday, complete with public and family traditions.

Space Day is oriented toward space education in the schools. Space Exploration Day is a family-oriented public holiday celebration, which also promotes the benefits of advancement beyond LEO human space achievement. Space Day, in the spring, is also at a different time of year than the Space Exploration Day holiday in summer. No real competition exists between the two events.

We didn’t have a proclamation from George W. Bush, and so far none from President Obama, who nonetheless emphasizes the great achievement of the first moonwalk in his speeches and encourages similar achievements in energy and other areas.

It is possible for Space Exploration Day to become a popular holiday, complete with public and family traditions. We have a number of well-liked and popular holidays that have never been officially established by the President of the United States or an act of Congress, yet are part of our culture. They include Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, and Halloween. Right now the public actually spends about as much money directly on Valentine’s Day as they do on the NASA budget. A better name for the space theme July 20th holiday might be Space Explorers Day. But Space Exploration Day has much more background behind it.

Currently, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah is working on legislation to establish Space Exploration Day as a permanent nonpaid commemorative holiday. It would add to a series of patriotic US summer holidays such as Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Patriots Day. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee support the effort.

Space Exploration Day, and commemoration of the first moonwalk, is also for all humankind. Everything started with the first moonwalk, although with far too long a gap between Apollo 11 and future efforts. ESA’s leader is talking about an international human lunar base as soon as the 2020s. Other countries also have plans for lunar missions and bases. Space Exploration Day can also encompass Mars settlement, asteroid mining, and more. It’s open to all humankind.

Recently, the July 20 Space Exploration Day family traditions have been promoted on the award winning PBS children’s science show “Janet’s Planet”. Millions of children are now aware of the Space Exploration Day holiday. Last summer, the daily comic strip “Brewster Rockit” promoted celebration of Space Exploration Day to its millions of newspaper readers.

One idea for a tradition is parents purchasing science toys for their children to help them celebrate Space Exploration Day. Space-themed science fiction toys can show a vision for future. George Lucas does hope that Star Wars will encourage children to be interested in real future space achievement possibilities.

The Space Exploration Day Holiday also has its own website, with much interesting information to explore.

Buzz Aldrin has said he doesn’t want an Apollo 11 moonwalk holiday that is focused on the past. With Space Exploration Day, the first moonwalk opened the door to a vast space future, a giant leap for all humanity. Lunar and Mars settlement, space mining, tourism, and space-based manufacturing all belong to our future possibilities in space.