Has it really been 40 years? The grainy black-and-white pictures showed up on our TV at home and Walter Cronkite told us that these images were from a camera mounted on one of the legs of the lunar module. Inside were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Cronkite said in a little while they’d open a hatch on the lander and Neil Armstrong would climb down the ladder of the spaceship and become the first man to walk on the moon.
July 20, 1969 is a date most of us who were old enough to reach the TV power switch will remember for as long as we remember anything. In Clay City, Indiana and every other nook and cranny in the country and the world, we all stayed up very late and watched. I remember wondering what Armstrong would say after he planted his foot on the surface of the moon. I remember joking about what he could say, something like, “Hey it is made out of cheese,” or “Now, how do we get back?” We figured he’d planned it out, and even rehearsed his first line. You don’t train for years, then when you finally become the first man on the moon say something stupid. It’s got to be something good and short enough to print on a plaque or something. So, Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.” Perfect, I thought I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Grandma Royer bought none of it. I remember her quote as easily as I remember Neil Armstrong’s. Grandma Royer looked up from her cross stitching and said, “They’re doing that in Arizona somewhere.” It was a tough choice for me. Do I believe Grandma Royer who, as far as I knew, had never lied to me, or do I believe this guy that claims to be standing on the moon, a guy I don’t know from Adam’s housecat. It’s been 40 years and I still can’t say I’ve totally settled that in my mind.
I met Michael Collins a few years later. I was chosen out of my class to attend some leadership conference in Indianapolis. Collins orbited the moon while Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the surface. He obviously was critical on the Apollo 11 mission, but wouldn’t you hate to circle the moon when your buddies are walking around down there. He said most people wouldn’t even remember him years from then. I still do.
I got to interview Buzz Aldrin a few years ago. He was late and I didn’t care; in fact, I missed an entire newscast so I could wait and be sure and get the interview. It was so worth it. It’s not every day that you can ask someone to describe the last minute of descent to the surface of the moon. He took 5 minutes to describe that last minute. I listened so intently that when he finished I wasn’t ready with another question. I think I said something profound like “cool.” You can’t teach interview skills like that.
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins went to the White House today to talk to the President about how important it is that we go to Mars. If we do that, I figure I’ll be in my 80s, and watch the Mars landing with my grandkids. Wonder if they’ll believe me, when I say, “Mars, my foot, they’re doing that just outside Phoenix.”
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