Farewell Neil!

Posted by on August 25, 2012 in Essay, Space Travel | 1 comment

Farewell Neil!

It’s hard to see the heroes of one’s youth slowly vanish from among us. Tonight, I am going to the “Bay Area Star Party” up at Chabot Science Center in Oakland, California. When I look at the moon, I’ll give it a special wink, as asked by his family. Please do the same. One thing I always loved about Mr. Armstrong was his humility, a trait not commonly found in the early astronaut corp. (Compare that to his fellow moonwalker, Buzz Aldrin, who has made a very fine career out of being the second man to walk on the moon.) A few years ago I had a chance to hear him speak at a local college. Such talks were very rare and how the school signed him up, I’ll never know. Armstrong’s gentle sense of humor was clearly evident in his opening comments. Paraphrased, they went something like this:

On our flight, numerous experiments were conducted. Experiments built by some of the world’s great scientists that would radio back data on various aspects of the moon for years and years to come. I was merely the technician who set them up.

At the end of the talk, during audience Q&A, came the expected question about those who think the moon landings were a hoax. To that, he responded:

Getting to the moon was a very hard thing to do. It required thousands of engineers, scientists and technicians to design millions of parts that all had work perfectly together to get Buzz and I to the lunar surface. The only thing harder, would be to fake that.

As the memory of Apollo 11 slowly receded and new Apollo missions crept up on the calendar, like all astronauts, Armstrong went out on the speaking tour. Called a “week in a barrel” sometimes entire crews would tour together, other times just a single astronaut. Just a week before the launch of Apollo 13, Neil came to speak to a conference of the AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) held in Palo Alto. He spoke a short 10 minutes about the role of man in space vs. machine. My dad pulled a few strings and we scored a couple of seats in a fairly small room. Afterwards I nervously went up to get his signature, as he was still giving out autographs at that time and ask him a lame question. A local newspaper photographer was there, and shot my photo for the April 7, 1970 edition of the Palo Alto times. Most kids at that time, if they had “heroes” usually numbered them among various sports, movies or musical groups. My heroes were the explorers, inventors, the scientists. For they were the people who really changed the world. More often the better. It’s hard to see the heroes of one’s youth slowly vanish from among us. Ad Astra, Neil.