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Kids explore spacecraft at Cradle of Aviation Museum

Liam Gerba, 4, of Delray Beach, Fla., tries

Liam Gerba, 4, of Delray Beach, Fla., tries on a NASA astronaut helmet at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City during a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 17 mission. (Dec. 28, 2012) Credit: Brittany Wait

Nicholas O’Leary dreams of one day becoming an astronaut.

So it wasn’t a surprise that the 8-year-old and his brother Matthew, 3, were among the hundreds of children on Friday to explore airplanes and spacecraft at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.

“When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut,” said Nicholas, of East Meadow. “I want to be just like Neil Armstrong. He was a great man. It would be so cool to go to Mars someday.”

The museum, which is home to a planetarium and more than 75 types of aircraft, is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon. "Fly Me To The Moon Week" continues from 12 to 4 p.m. until Monday.

Nicholas’ father, William O’Leary, brought his sons in attempt to instill the same passion for space exploration that he had as a child and teenager.

“I’ve always been interested in space and my oldest is a Neil Armstrong fact machine, so this aviation museum is a fantastic place to bring them,” said O’Leary, 37. “Right now, it’s probably just something fun for them to do, but I’m hoping that something sticks with them.”

Museum executive director Andrew Parton said the Cradle of Aviation, which opened in 2002, preserves and explains the role Long Island played in advancements in aviation and aerospace.

“This week, we’re allowing families to look at the next generation of space flight through NASA’s Orion project,” said Parton. “One of the best things is the new JetBlue Sky planetarium where you’ll be able to take a trip to the moon with one of our educators who will pick someone out of the audience, give them an Xbox controller, and let them take us to the moon.”

Until the end of the month, the museum will provide hands-on activities like building cardboard miniature astronauts and Orion space capsules. The museum’s JetBlue Sky Theater Planetarium also features a guided show that transports viewers to the Apollo 17 landing site using images from NASA.

Janis Krempa watched her 4-year-old daughter, Caroline Keefe, pretend to fly a wooden plane.

“We come here all the time,” said Krempa, 43, of Manhasset. “She just loves airplanes, rockets, you name it. It’s her favorite place to go and this anniversary just makes it that much better.”

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