"That's One Small Step for [a] Man..."
The first step on the Moon. NASA Image.
"...One Giant Leap for Mankind." -- Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong is gone. The first man to step onto another heavenly body has stepped into Eternity. I remember that July in 1969, gathering with the family around the television to watch the first blurry images as Armstrong and Buzz Aldren walked on the lunar surface.
I grew up in a NASA family. Dad had met Mom at Glenn L. Martin's Middle River Plant in Baltimore building and testing seaplanes for the war. Dad married his chief number cruncher and went on to start his own structural testing lab. In the early 'Sixties, he joined the space agency, doing work that greatly increased the reliability of spacecraft. His partner in much of this work was a hansome Turkish engineer named Ali.
NASA, in its wisdom, sent Dad and Ali to advise the European space agencies... landing them in Paris during the push for Algerian separation. As tanks rolled through the Parisian streets, Dad made his way through the city with a man many suspected was an Algerian! Those were interesting times.
Dad and Ali were good friends. We entertained Ali at our house, Mom carefully avoiding the foods that would be offensive to his Muslim culture. Indeed, NASA brought together great minds from a host of diverse backgrounds. A cast of thousands developed the technology that put the man from Wapakoneta, Ohio on the Moon. Here was the true brilliance of NASA; the terrible technology of Peenemünde was turned on its head as Wernher von Braun now led its mission to take human aspirations to the stars.
From the national anxiety created by Sputnik, the designers of NASA brilliantly shifted the technology advances necessary for our defense from the Army Missle Agency to a civilian agency. John F. Kennedy raised humanities collective aspirations with his charge to: "put a man on the Moon in this decade, and return him safely to Earth."
When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon, the world watched. That moment seemed to welcome a new era of human progress.
Neil Armstrong's official NASA portrait. Nasa Image.