The city of Kent and the Kent Downtown Partnership hope to get a lot of mileage out of the aerospace display unveiled Tuesday inside the accesso ShoWare Center.
The display kicks off a fundraising goal of $1 million as city and KDP leaders plan to build an interactive park like no other by late 2020 with a replica lunar rover, a replica astronaut and all kinds of fun features to celebrate and honor Kent’s past and future in the aerospace industry.
“It’s aspirational,” said Michelle Wilmot, city economic program manager, about the $1 million goal she revealed during an interview. “But we want a park that is on par with the amazing human achievements we are celebrating, so it needs to be exciting with interactive amenities.”
The design, features and new renderings of the proposed renovation and lunar rover display at Kherson Park, 317 W. Gowe St., in the heart of downtown, are expected to be out in the fall, Wilmot said.
For the next six months or so, anyone who walks to the southwest corner of the ShoWare Center’s concourse will see a replica astronaut standing next to a large, informative wall display that celebrates the 50th anniversary of Boeing winning the NASA contract to create lunar rovers at its Kent space center. Three of the rovers remain on the moon after astronauts used them to explore during Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17 in 1971 and 1972.
Mayor Dana Ralph wants the lunar rover to represent the past and the future of space innovation in Kent.
“We want you to be channeling your inner astronaut to help bring the next lunar rover to Kent,” Ralph said at the kickoff event. “From the first lunar rover from about 50 years ago at Boeing Space Center to the creation of the next generation rockets, brilliant scientists and engineers have and are still developing the world’s most advanced vehicles right here in Kent Valley. That’s a pretty impressive thing when you think about it.”
About $86,000 has been raised so far, Wimot said. Boeing donated $25,000 to help get the fundraising started. People can donate online at ApolloLunarRover.com.
How fancy the park becomes and when structures get built will depend on the fundraising effort over the next couple of years, Wilmot said. The replica astronaut is done. The replica lunar rover – at a cost of about $125,000 – is expected to be finished this fall.
Minnesota-based Cre8Play, a custom park and play environment fabricator that specializes in innovative concepts for play elements, built the astronaut and will make the lunar rover. The 1,500-pound astronaut is made out of fiber-reinforced concrete. The core of it is 3D printed out of a foam product. The lunar rover will be mostly metal.
“It’s time for us to start talking about who we are and the amazing things that are being done in our community,” Ralph said. “That’s the only way we are going to continue to attract that kind of investment that will increase the jobs and the innovation that is happening here.”
With Kent-based Blue Origin building rockets to eventually carry people into space, Ralph wants people to know Kent remains a space center and that many fine engineer and skilled labor jobs will be available.
“We can inspire kids that out-of-this-world opportunities are still available to them today right here in the Kent Valley,” Ralph said about the park plans. “We are going to celebrate our history but give kids something to think about, building a lunar rover or a rocket.”
Michael Lombardi, a Kent resident and Boeing historian, told the small group gathered at the ShoWare Center that the company appreciates the lunar rover replica and park plans by the city and Kent Downtown Partnership.
“We have an incredible aerospace legacy here,” Lombardi said. “This is a home for space like Houston, Cape Canaveral – Kent is a word that should be spoken in the same way. This is a great way to continue one of the great powers of Apollo which is to inspire. And we are on the cusp to be able to travel and work in space.”