“I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important to the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
Those were the words of a visionary who would not live to know whether or not his vision would be fulfilled.
For those of us who follow NASA, Kennedy’s vision and his challenge were everything.
As a boy, I watched, each time, as NASA sent a man into space. I watched too, as they returned. I remember when the Apollo 3 died in a training fire on a launch pad and thinking that what we all wanted, Kennedy’s vision, was lost.
We were wrong.
I remember watching and listening, on a Christmas Eve as, in orbit around the moon, Genesis was read by our astronauts on Apollo 8.
It was a story I had heard in church and Sunday school for as long as I could remember but, it had never meant so much.
And then, when I was not quite nine years old, it happened.
On TV we watched as Apollo 11 took flight. Even on TV you could tell it was different. It was louder. It was a little slower than the others as it lifted off. Maybe others didn’t notice but, I did. I did because I had memorized every flight. Every rocket. Every launch and every splash down.
I knew exactly what a launch would look like and sound like but, this one, Apollo 11, was different and, so was I.
I knew exactly where they were going and I knew that if they came back, nothing would ever be the same again.
On board were Michael Collins who would not walk where no man had ever walked but, without him, the others wouldn’t make it back. That made Michael Collins as important as anyone who ever rode a rocket.
Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin was there and he would…He WOULD walk where they were going.
And, Neil Armstrong.
He would be the first. If they made it, he would be first.
My parents got me up in what seemed to be the middle of the night. It was happening. We sat in front of the TV and, in what was the fuzziest picture I have ever seen, and a little off kilter, we could see him.
In front of us, he came down that ladder, Real slow and he sort of hopped to the bottom. We could hear him, Armstrong, talking to mission control. He described what the ground looked like,
And then…Then he said he was going to step onto the moon.
There was a pause, as I remember it.
“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
It was July 20th 1969.
1969…Before the end of the decade.
“I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
But is wasn’t over just because they were there, Armstrong and Aldrin, walking on the moon. They had to get back too.
And they did.
For three more years, others would go and they all came back. Things did change, maybe not the way we thought they would but one thing would, most certainly, never be the same again.
The way I felt when I looked at the moon.
For the last 43 years, I have never gotten those first words from the lunar surface out of my head and from that day to this, Neil Armstrong has been one of my heroes.
He was the first person I ever watched, in my life, take something that was only a dream, and make it a reality.
It was an American Dream and Neil Armstrong was an American Hero.
If HE thought he was a hero, he never bothered to mention it. Armstrong’s private life was quiet. He didn’t go on tour. He didn’t spend 43 years doing talk shows or interviews.
He once said, “I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”
Not in HIS accomplishments…In the accomplishments of his profession.
Neil Armstrong never had to brag about what he did because the rest of the world did that for him.
Yesterday, we lost an American hero at the age of 82. The world lost the first of a kind. NASA lost an icon.
Personally, I lost something too. Oh, Neil Armstrong is as alive for me today as he was yesterday and as alive as he was 43 years ago when he walked on the moon. I don’t have to go to You Tube to see it. It has played, in my mind, for 43 years.
I lost the guy, the first guy, who, with just a single step,let me believe that ANYTHING was possible.
I looked at the moon last night.
In a way, it seemed different. Not as different as it did in the middle of the night on July 20th 1969 but, different. I know others have walked there and I believe more will though I don’t know when, but it looks a little different now.
The first man to walk there is gone and I believe the next full moon might be just a little brighter because a piece of his soul will be there.
There all to often comes a time when we discover that our heroes have feet of clay.
That day never came with Neil Armstrong.
His feet were made of moon dust.
“Houston: Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has returned to the heavens.”
The National Patriot
Weekend Edition 8-26-12