Coney Island celebrates the return of the Astroland Rocket

We have liftoff!

On Saturday, August 9, The Coney Island History Project and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park hosted the Fourth Annual History Day, which highlighted the triumphant return to the seaside resort of the historic Astroland Rocket Ship. The rocket, built in 1964, was considered the first space simulator. Attendees were able to take a peek inside the rocket, which was sealed shut for 45 years.

“It was a very successful event,” said Coney Island History Project director Charles Denson. “The rocket has so much of an emotional feel to the people. It’s been an iconic landmark for Coney for nearly half century. So many people that have seen it over the years wondered what it’s like to be inside. Some people remember riding it in 1962.”

Superstorm Sandy created significant damage to the landmark, requiring its removal, and leaving fans of Coney upset over the rocket’s absence. “The damage done by Sandy left people feeling very emotional,” said Denson.

The rocket was eventually fixed and brought back to Coney Island this past June. “Having it restored and back in Coney Island under Deno’s Wonder Wheel is incredible,” said Denson.

“When I saw the wreckage of (the rocket) after Sandy, I thought it was hopeless,” said Carol Hill Albert, long-time co-owner of Astroland Park (which closed in 2008) and co-founder of the Coney Island History Project as she addressed the large crowd. “I just couldn’t imagine that they could restore to such beautiful condition in such a short amount of time. It’s great.”

The ceremony started with President John F. Kennedy’s famous ‘Man on the Moon’ speech. “When the space race began, kids and adults would go inside and have simulated ride into outer space,” explained Denson. “When it came to Coney, it was the first of its kind.”

Although there was plenty of reminiscing and celebrating of the rocket’s past, Denson also stressed the future is bright as well. “It was not just a throwback to the ‘60s, but also a nod to the future. There was a lot of optimism back then. There’s optimism now,” he said. “It’s back and it’s not just a symbol. We are turning it into an interactive exhibit to teach kids about space travel. It’s a beautiful piece.”

Other highlights of the day included music from the 1960s and the debut of a film that documented how the rocket returned to its original home.

But the main attraction was getting a glimpse of the inside of the rockets. “We couldn’t believe how excited people were to have a look inside it,” Denson said. “I hope it inspires children like it did when it was built.”

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