It’s July 19 and I’m at Wapakoneta, Ohio, at the Armstrong Air & Space Museum. Tomorrow is July 20, 2014, the 45th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. I remember his famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Do you remember? Very few of those visiting today were even alive on that historic date.
The museum is small but well designed, and I want to know who was able to get all these artifacts so well displayed in such a small space. The museum is crowded today, and I think, What would a fire marshal say? The lawn outside is cluttered with all manner of sources of amusement and refreshments.
Children are screaming with excitement. Some are crying and in the “I want” mode as their parents encourage them to move along the sidewalk leading up to the museum.
I have come to hear astronaut Captain Sunita Williams speak, so I make my way to the small auditorium which is in the dome of the building. From 1-75 this dome appropriately looks like the moon, and walking the bridge to the auditorium terrifies me as it is meant to replicate the feeling of being in outer space. There a docent is quizzing the audience about the science of space exploration, and he follows that with a laser show that pleases the audience as they show their appreciation with vocal expressions and applause.
I have prepared for this visit by reading Jay Barbree’s 2014 Neil Armstrong A Life of Flight. Barbree is an NBC News Space Correspondent, and I have read his 362-page volume with a sense of excitement as though I was not already aware that Armstrong and his crew did get to the moon and back. I’ve also arranged for my photographer friend James Copes to meet me there. He has readily promised to share his photographs of the moon with my readers and me. I’ve been given faulty information, however, and although the museum is small and I arrive at 1:30, I miss Copes.
As I prepare to leave the museum, I see Colonel Gregory Johnson (USAF retired) and Captain Williams, such a small woman who looks even smaller as she is dressed in a dark shirt with a NASA emblem and dark pants. My preparation for her remarks has involved reading the 12 pages devoted to her story in Wikipedia. I’m a bit surprised that Captain Williams is co-directing a group of 30 plus through the museum, answering with enthusiasm questions about her preparation to be an astronaut and her duties. She is paying no attention whatever to a preteen who has determined that standing is no longer possible, so she has plopped down up against a wall and is in another world, never realizing she is in the presence of greatness (Per Wikipedia, Williams holds the records for the longest single space flight by a woman at 195 days, total spacewalks by a woman, 7, and most spacewalk time by a woman at 50 hours and 40 minutes).
Will these young ones in the crowd have the misconception of many who believe that one day a few astronauts decided to go to the moon, went, planted an American flag, gathered some moon dust and rocks and came home?
Will their teachers ever detail for them the challenges individuals and the program faced? Will they know that it’s nothing short of a miracle that Armstrong lived to walk on the moon after his life was almost snuffed out, first in Korea when he had to eject from his fighter plane, then in a house fire, and finally in his forced ejection from his Lunar Landing Training Vehicle seconds before it hit the ground and exploded into a fireball?
Will they know that Armstrong chose to live his life quietly? As my friend Copes who once had a brief talk with Armstrong says, “He could have made millions from what he did, and even in death he valued his privacy. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered into the Atlantic Ocean by a U.S. Navy ceremonial guard. No state funeral. No fuss. Just simple, quiet dignity.”
Will they realize that the work of an astronaut is more than getting in a space suit, taking publicity shots and heading out? Will they understand the malfunctions that occur in flight and require intelligent, thoughtful, well-educated astronauts to address them?
With all these questions resonating in my mind, I go to the gift shop, buy a tee shirt, am asked by a greeter if I enjoyed the museum, find my car in the parking lot and drive home, all the while thinking about what I’ll say on April 1, 2015, when I’m scheduled to make a presentation on Armstrong’s journey to the moon at the local Columbian Club.