It was summer of 1969. America was at war, an unpopular war. The Beatles were still at the top of the charts but winding down. There were no VCR’s, DVR’s, or even microwave ovens. The average family, at least those I knew, had only a single television, and they were fortunate if it was 19” and in color. At my house, we were fortunate.
On a muggy evening in July, I stayed up late like many kids my age (9) and waited while we watched Walter Cronkite and NASA experts discuss what was about to unfold. My memory tells me it was late night when Eagle’s hatch popped open and a white and grey boot slid out the door, but it may have been only 9:00. I honestly don’t recall and have never looked it up. Being the oldest, my parents allowed me to stay up on weeknights when Star Trek aired, so I was used to seeing miraculous space adventures in what were, to me, the wee hours of the night. A child’s perspective.
I’m told I watched John Glenn ascend into the heavens. While I don’t remember that launch, I do remember following the space missions my entire life. I distinctly recall a Gemini launch, although which one will forever remain a mystery to me.
But this was different. Even then I knew it. In childhood days filled with Matt Mason, Hot Wheels, and Rat Fink, I knew this was something very special. I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon. Live.
Since then, I’ve travelled and been to Wapakoneta, Neil Armstrong’s birthplace. (Actually, we would pass it on the way to my in-laws, but we were there many times nonetheless.) I know where his farm is in Red Lion, Ohio. I’ve worked with NASA enough to have been to Cape Canaveral, and have driven all over the launch facility, both the Air Force side and the NASA side, so I’ve seen where he started his Gemini and Apollo missions. (You couldn’t get near the Saturn V launch pads, however, as they were later commissioned for Shuttle missions … deadly force authorized, and there were guys there with automatic weapons to back that promise.)
While I never met Neil, I still idolized him and his heroic missions. Think about it…”heroic.” White, Chafee, and Grissom recently died in what was supposed to be a simple capsule pressurization test. Neil would be flying the largest man-made machine ever created, one that was capable of producing near atomic blast levels of energy. The machine had never been fully tested. And yes, it was made from subsystems all produced by the lowest bidder, and the astronauts knew it.
So climbing into that capsule in mid-July 1969 was bravery beyond measure. But all three astronauts — Neil, Buzz, and Mike, jumped in like they were hopping into their Corvettes for an afternoon ride.
It was an historic ride. A defining ride. Our world was forever changed, even if today those memories seem distant to some. We took our first steps into the cosmos, and Neil was our emissary.
The world has now lost Neil, and for a time the bright light of mankind is a little dimmer as we mourn his passing. But you’ll always be my hero, Neil, and I won’t forget. And when I look up at the bright moon, I’ll wink. The Eagle has landed. Tranquility base signing off. Godspeed.
Red e App VP of Platform Engineering