The pages of history are filled with people who on the surface would seem to be destined for an insignificant role in their communities. However, life choices and determination can transform the insignificance label to a life teeming with possibilities.
One such individual was a baby, Neil Alden, born on August 5, 1930 on the family farm near Wapakoneta, Ohio. Wapakoneta was established by the Shawnees in the 1780s, and its meaning is “white garment” or “white cloth” based on current research.
It is of note to associate “white garment’ with the baby born to Viola Louise nee Engel and Stephen Koenig Armstrong. For Neil Alden Armstrong his white garment would be the A7L (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) space suit by the International Latex Corporation designed to survive the rigors of space and the first walk on the Moon.
On September 12, 1962 at Rice University in Houston Texas President John F. Kennedy made a bold proclamation:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.
In the last 24 hours we have seen facilities now being created for the greatest and most complex exploration in man’s history. We have felt the ground shake and the air shattered by the testing of a Saturn C-1 booster rocket, many times as powerful as the Atlas which launched John Glenn, generating power equivalent to 10,000 automobiles with their accelerators on the floor. We have seen the site where the F-1 rocket engines, each one as powerful as all eight engines of the Saturn combined, will be clustered together to make the advanced Saturn missile, assembled in a new building to be built at Cape Canaveral as tall as a 48 story structure, as wide as a city block, and as long as two lengths of this field.
Within these last 19 months at least 45 satellites have circled the earth. Some 40 of them were “made in the United States of America” and they were far more sophisticated and supplied far more knowledge to the people of the world than those of the Soviet Union.
The Mariner spacecraft now on its way to Venus is the most intricate instrument in the history of space science. The accuracy of that shot is comparable to firing a missile from Cape Canaveral and dropping it in this stadium between the 40-yard lines.
Transit satellites are helping our ships at sea to steer a safer course. Tiros satellites have given us unprecedented warnings of hurricanes and storms, and will do the same for forest fires and icebergs.
We have had our failures, but so have others, even if they do not admit them. And they may be less public.
To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.
Of course, the technology did not exist to send a man to the Moon, except in books, films and television. It was a challenge, and the challenge was met.
Sadly, President Kennedy never knew that his bodacious goal would be met on July 20, 1969. Three men, “amiable strangers,” would venture to the Moon where two of them would be the first humans to walk on another stellar body.
As the world watched on July 20, 1969, two men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, descended 50,000 feet to the lunar surface from Apollo 11. Michael Collins in the command module above waited anxiously as well.
As Neil Armstrong exited the Eagle and set his left foot on the Moon, he said,
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
These were the first words from another stellar surface spoken by a human. Neil Armstrong thought he had placed an “a” before “man,” but the audio recording did not detect the “a,” which has been a source of controversy over the decades.
For me, we had just replaced our black and white television with a color set. Watching the lunar landing was a highlight for this teenager who was a Star Trek and Lost in Space fan and had watched 2001: A Space Odyssey several times in the theatre the previous year.
Many of us believed that we would have bases and perhaps a city on the Moon before the century was over. Mars would be colonized in the first decade of the 21st Century.
Sadly, none of that transpired for my generation. For us who were and are space enthusiasts, the neglect of space exploration by humans is a painful reality of lost opportunities and grand possibilities.
Another sad note is that all three Apollo 11 astronauts left NASA for their own reasons soon after their return from the Moon. Neil Armstrong died August 25, 2012 from surgical complications.
In their late 80s “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins are still alive as of this writing. Just wonder how they are feeling 50 years later after their intrepid adventure?
Perhaps, President Kennedy’s final words at Rice University sum up the human spirit.
Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, “Because it is there.”
Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked. Ibid
Since the beginning humans have answered the nomadic urgings within their souls. What lay over the next mountain or across the desert or the sea has compelled adventurers to seek the answer to what is out there, beyond our comprehension.
As Herman Melville so aptly stated, “As for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts.”
In the years to come, Mars and beyond….For my generation it will be after we have made our final journey to the cosmic ocean (this assumes that this marvelous planet traversing the cosmos will still be here, and our ‘pale blue dot” will still be viable for life by the end of this century).
G. D. Williams © 2019