Maksim "Maks" Protzman said he might be a cardiothoracic surgeon someday, instead of an astronaut, but the two-time Space Camp attendee still appreciates the importance of the Apollo 11 moon landing, even though that was almost four decades before he was born.
"I think it was a really big deal," Protzman, of Jefferson City, said of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.
"Lots of people appreciate the hard work that goes into getting there and getting back," he said of why he thought people at the time thought of the moon landing as important — in addition to it being the first time humans had set foot on the ground of somewhere beyond Earth.
This weekend's historic 50th anniversary of NASA's Apollo 11 mission's moon landing, when Neil Armstrong planted the first human steps on the moon, will be a chance for young people and educators to reflect on the past and future of space exploration.
"We're thinking about going back to the moon in 2024 and also going to Mars. I think because of Apollo 11's success, we're able to actually develop more missions to explore deeper into space," Joy Johnson said.
Johnson is a middle school science teacher at the South Callaway R-2 School District and a NASA solar system ambassador who shares the space agency's latest science and discoveries with communities.
Johnson was not yet born to witness Apollo 11, either, and she wants "to remind people of the activities that NASA has done. It is a big part of our history."
Her passion for science and space exploration was stoked by her duties with the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where she worked to ensure the water distribution system to launch pads and fire systems in the facility were in order for every mission that launched rockets and missiles into space.
When asked what the moment could be that inspires the next generation of astronauts and engineers, she said probably in school — educators showing videos about the progress that NASA's making.
"It's going to allow students or young people to pursue careers in STEM or anything in science that involves exploration," she said, adding space exploration should be "a big part of our school system."
For students who cannot make it to Space Camp at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, like Protzman, Johnson said the library is a good place to engage with the subject.
She's holding a "Back to the Moon!" event Saturday at the Moniteau County Public Library in California and a "Build and Launch a Rocket" event July 26 at the Missouri River Regional Library in Jefferson City.
In terms of locations in space where Protzman said he would go, if he could, it would be the sun — "to take some stuff from the sun" and show how hot it is. You'd need more than a fireman's suit" to protect against the heat, though, he said.
"Whenever people land on Mars, that'll be huge," he added.
In the meantime, he definitely wants to go back to Space Camp, maybe to do the aviation or robotics programs offered there.
Space Camp participants train like astronauts on equipment that mimics the conditions of space, go on simulated missions and learn what's it like to live in Earth's orbit. More information is available at spacecamp.com.