Saturday, August 25, 2012

One Small Step

July 20, 1969 is one of those days burned into my memory just like the assassination of John F. Kennedy and The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  On that date, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.  Watching CBS anchor Walter Cronkite do the play-by-play of the landing beat anything today's reality TV has to offer.  Then there was the agonizing wait for NASA to give the green light to Neil Armstrong to make his historic trek down the ladder of the Lunar Module and take man's first steps on the moon.

That grainy moment captured from the surface of the moon summed up everything that made the United States of America great in the 20th century.  After watching the historic step I went outside and joined my neighbor Greg Morgenson, who had set up a telescope to look up at the bright full moon that shown over Abilene, Kansas.  Greg and I pondered what Armstrong and Aldrin must be experiencing so very, very far away.

Astronauts were like sports heroes.  John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schara, etc; we're right up there with Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.  In fact astronauts were beyond big in the 1960's.  NASA's publicity machine did a great job of keeping these courageous men in the public consciousness. 

Armstrong seemed dull compared to many of the stable of astronauts that worked for NASA.  To me it seems the fact that he was unremarkable made him the perfect choice to be the first man on the moon.  He never really cashed in on that fact.  John Glenn embraced the spotlight that being an astronaut gave him and turned it into a great political career.  Armstrong went along quietly, contributing to science and in the board rooms of some major American corporations.

In fact, that's how I got to meet him.  I was working in Phoenix when our corporate bosses came to see the facility.  Neil Armstrong sat on the board of Taft Broadcasting.  In a little used studio the staff gathered for a meet and greet with the corporate suits.  I only went so I could see Neil Armstrong.  Meeting great men and women always leaves me in awe.  But I never felt so nervous or shy as when I got to meet Neil Armstrong.  I knew I was in the presence of one of the most extraordinary moments of man's history.  It is a moment I will never forget.

Neil Armstrong died at age 82 this Saturday.  Of America's 12 moon-walkers... only 8 remain.  It's sad to think that we may not reach the moon or another planet before the last of these great men pass.

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