July 1969 I was a camp counselor at a Girl Scout camp. Twenty counselors crammed into the staff house, switched on a tiny 19′ black and white TV, and watched Neil Armstrong take that small yet huge first step onto the moon’s surface. I rushed outside and stared up at the moon. I willed myself to see the Eagle, the moon rover, and Neil skipping across a caulky terrain that looked cold, silent, and eerie on the TV screen. I still get goose-bumps remembering it.
Years later I went to visit NASA in Houston. I saw first hand the space suits that protected the astronauts. I marveled at the engineering that went into the making of this protective bubble that kept our space travelers safe. How bulky, clumsy, and heavy they looked on display. The dark visor of the helmets threw off a spooky, man-from-outer-space aura around the outfit.
The Apollo capsule that carried these brave men through the darkness of space kicked my claustrophobia into high gear. Three small car seats with an instrument panel almost in the men’s lap hardly gave them room to burp let alone move. I wondered how NASA choose the three men teams. With no room for egos, pettiness or grumpy attitudes the three worked as one, yoked together with a common goal. Not only the astronauts but Mission Control personnel as well worked in harmony in order to achieve something greater than themselves. How wonderful it would be if all of us could attain this mind-set. What wonders could we accomplish?
There is controversy about the moon landing. Did it really happen? Some say it was an elaborate hoax staged to convince the world of U.S. supremacy. I shake my head. Tsk, Tsk. One of the greatest achievements of mankind can’t be accepted for what it was. The event forever tainted by politics, greed, and . . . bullshit. It makes me angry. No. Not angry. Down right pissed off.
Do you know how much courage Neil Armstrong and all his fellow astronauts must have? To boldly go where no man has gone before? Living with the knowledge that any second anything and everything could go wrong? That they could float forever lost and alone in the blackness? Burn to death on reentry? Run out of oxygen? Never to come home? I sure as hell am not that brave. Are you?
It saddens me to read about Neil Armstrong’s passing. It also saddens me that my twenty-year old co-workers have no idea who Neil Armstrong was. Alan Shepherd? Who’s he? John Glenn? Who? The space shuttle exploding? What? AGGGGGGG!!!! What are they teaching in school? This is a huge part of American and World history. AGGGGGGG!!!!! Wake up America! Quit focusing on FaceBook, Twitter, texting. Don’t let Neil’s life be in vain.
Last night I stood of my porch,stared at the moon, and swore I saw Neil skipping across the surface. Only this time without the constriction of a clumsy spacesuit. Neil is free. I raised my wine-glass in tribute.
“This one’s for you, Neil. I’ll be looking at the moon and remembering you.”