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Space experts look to the stars during aerospace symposium on Wednesday

by Luanne Williams
Andrew Aldrin, son of Buzz Aldrin

Stargazers who join Wingate University astronomer Grant Thompson on the lawn for a look through a telescope Wednesday night may see the sky in a whole new light after attending an aerospace symposium to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. The event, featuring Andy Aldrin, son of the mission’s lunar-module pilot, Buzz Aldrin, begins at 6 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Kathryn Thornton, astronaut

“Humans have gazed at the heavens with wonder, amazement and aspirations throughout history,” Dr. Thompson says. “Humankind fulfilled one such aspiration nearly a half-century ago when Apollo 11 touched down on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969. In commemoration of mankind’s ‘giant leap,’ Wingate University is taking a ‘small step’ toward recognizing this achievement and bringing it to life for a new generation.”

Jim Rice, space scientist

The symposium begins in Austin Auditorium with Dr. Aldrin, director of the Aldrin Space Institute, and four-mission veteran astronaut Dr. Kathryn Thornton discussing the state of space exploration and future possibilities. At 7 p.m., Dr. Jim Rice, a planetary scientist on the Mars Exploration Rover project, and Chris Plate, executive director of Monroe-Union County Economic Development, will join Aldrin and Thornton on the stage to discuss a variety of topics related to the aerospace industry and answer questions.

Chris Plate

The panel discussion will be followed by a reception. Then, attendees will have their choice of three activities beginning at 8:30 p.m. The movie Hidden Figures will be shown in Plyler-Griffin Recital Hall while Apollo II the Documentary runs in Austin. Thompson will have telescopes set up near the Talley Fountain in front of the Batte Center for sky scanning.

Grant Thompson, astronomer


“We hope that adults, children, families and friends will join us as we pause to hear some stories about our nation’s space program, gaze upon the moon, and simply remember to just look up,” Thompson says.

Anyone who would like to submit a question for the symposium panel discussion may email it to him at There is no charge for any of Wednesday’s events.