Park sculpture evokes the era of lunar landings

A child of the space race, that’s how he describes himself.

“It’s been a huge fascination,” said Peter Reiquam, who as a boy watched Americans walk on the moon.

Reiquam, 53, is an artist, not an astronaut. In this week marking the 43rd anniversary of the first manned moon landing, I tracked him down to ask a question: Does Snohomish County have its own rendering of moon rocks?

“It’s not necessarily the moon. It’s a fictional landscape. It could be any planet,” Reiquam said.

The Seattle sculptor was talking about “Landing Zone,” his fun and functional art installation at Paine Field Community Park.

With the look of a retro sci-fi movie, “Landing Zone” is part flying saucer, part rain or sun shelter. It has granite boulders — which I saw as moon rocks — and a cast-concrete “X” with the appearance of a landing site and the function of a park bench.

Reiquam, like all of us baby boomers, came of age during the Space Age. Possibilities seemed limitless as we gathered around TV sets to watch a rocket blast off or a capsule splash down.

That day men first walked on the moon — July 20, 1969 — is more than etched in Reiquam’s memory. It’s inked on his upper arm. His big tattoo, created by Kenneth Neubert, shows astronaut Neil Armstrong on the moon in his lunar landing suit.

Borrowed from a famous photo, the tattoo includes a blue planet earth in the background, and something that wasn’t in the iconic picture — a satellite meant to represent Sputnik. The Soviets launched the satellite into orbit in 1957, and Reiquam said it’s on his arm as an homage to “the whole space race thing.”

On the day of the first moon walk, Reiquam’s family was in Norway. His scientist father was there working on a research project. His family didn’t have a television in Norway, so his father rented one from a TV repair shop. “All our neighbors came, and we watched it live,” Reiquam said.

One of the sculptor’s two grown sons is named Shepard — in honor of Alan Shepard, the NASA astronaut who on May 5, 1961, became the first American to travel into space. In 1971, Alan Shepard also walked on the moon and hit golf balls on the lunar surface.

We have memories of seeing golf on the moon. No wonder Reiquam and I share a sadness that our country can no longer independently send astronauts into space.

On Saturday, it will have been a year since the shuttle Atlantis landed, ending the U.S. space shuttle program. In 1999, I wrote a column about the 30th anniversary of the moon landing. I noted how odd it seemed that I saw men walking on the moon, but my children only see that as history.

I have a copy of Time magazine from July 25, 1969. The magazine quotes German-born rocket engineer Wernher von Braun, who died in 1977. In 1969, he said he believed Americans could land on Mars by 1982 — people, not just a remote-controlled Mars rover.

The first launch of the shuttle Columbia was in 1981.

What we couldn’t see coming in 1969 was the Great Recession.

A NASA astronaut, along with one from Japan and one from Russia, just arrived at the International Space Station, boosted by a Russian rocket. For now, American astronauts have to hitch a ride. It’s like being grounded — no fun.

“It’s terribly disappointing to me. I think it’s going to be awhile,” Reiquam said. “The economy being what it is, it’s hard to justify. But I personally think it’s a great thing to explore the rest of the universe. The number of technological advances to come out of the space program is phenomenal.”

Less tangible, but no less meaningful, was how going to the moon made us feel. Reiquam remembers ticker-tape parades for astronauts who were “real-life heroes.”

“It captured everyone’s imagination in ways recent news can’t. People want something to cheer about,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Astronaut talk

Former NASA astronaut Dr. Michael Barratt will give a talk at 2 p.m. Saturday at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Barratt will be at the museum for Space Exploration Day, commemorating anniversaries of the moon landing on July 20, 1969 and the Viking I robotic landing on Mars July 20, 1976.

In 2009, Barratt flew with space tourist Charles Simonyi on the Russian Soyuz TMA-14 to the International Space Station. In 2011, he was on space shuttle Discovery’s final flight. The talk is free with museum admission.

The Museum of Flight is at 9404 E. Marginal Way S., Seattle.

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