About 20 people showed up Saturday morning to witness the launch of a model rocket at Montclair's Northeast School field to commemorate man’s first walk on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Montclair native Buzz Aldrin.

On June 20, Young Sydney Roper, whose family recently moved to Westview Road, pressed the firing button of the rocket after the countdown, at 9:56 a.m. — exactly 12 hours before the 50th anniversary of the moment Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface.

A few seconds later, the Saturn 5 roared up in a rush of smoke and fire. After reaching an apogee of about 200 feet, the rocket tilted over, a parachute ejected and the model drifted safely back to Northeast School field, where a kid grabbed it. The flight lasted 23 seconds.

Montclair resident Ted Dupont built the rocket and organized the launch as a tribute not only to the crew of Apollo 11, but the entire U.S. manned space program.  A retired public relations professional, Dupont watched the live broadcast of the moon landing as a teenager in Hammond, Indiana. He is a lifelong fan of the space program and has built and flown many rockets.

The group that launched the rocket at 9:56 a.m. on July 20.
Ted Dupont
The group that launched the rocket at 9:56 a.m. on July 20.
Ted Dupont

“I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the moon landing than by launching a real scale model Saturn 5 in Buzz Aldrin’s hometown,” said Dupont. “It’s a no-brainer. I’m glad people showed up to take part.”

Max Myers, a high-school student who lives on Westview Road, kicked things up a notch by filming the launch from the sky with his HD-camera-equipped drone, providing dramatic footage of the flight.

Local families who gathered on the steamy Saturday morning for the launch didn’t quite know what to expect, as many, especially the kids, had never seen a model rocket launch. But they went away happy — maybe in part because the launch was over so quickly, allowing everyone to get out of the sun on one of the hottest days of the summer, said Dupont with a laugh.

The Saturn 5 model rocket is a safe, lightweight hobby product manufactured by industry leader Estes Industries. Model rocketry, governed by the National Association of Rocketry, is an effective way to promote STEM education for students.

The rocket launch, taken together with the township’s official (and separate) ceremony honoring the moon landing, marks the latest example of Montclair’s belated recognition of Aldrin. Several years ago, Mount Hebron Middle School was renamed for Aldrin, who attended the school.

“Who knows? Maybe we’ll make the launch an annual event every July 20,” said Dupont, noting the rocket is in perfect condition and ready to be fired off again.