I've always been heavily into The Space Program. I was born in 1955 when the only thing orbiting the earth was the moon.
Growing up watching macho test pilots like Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper put on Buck-Rodgers-Silver-Popular-Science space suits, strap themselves into a modified-life-support-warhead on top of a Cold War Nuclear Missle and blast themselves into space not knowing what would happen...Good God.
That is some legendary shit!
It was like American Idol. Seven Astronauts! Who would be the first? Who would be chosen for the sub-orbital flights? Who would be chosen to match Yuri Gagarin and be the first American to orbit the earth?
We didn't know until NASA announced it on Launch Day! And it all took place live, on TV within a matter of a few minutes or a few hours. Live or die. Success or defeat. We'll know in 15 minutes. I watched Alan Shepard blast off into space at home on my black and white TV. Then I had to walk to school and wait to find out if he lived or died. Heavy drama!
So fast forward to 1981. The shuttle program is gearing up and I am looking for inside information. I call NASA HQ in Washington and get put in touch with this Media Liason guy. He starts sending me all of this really cool, insider NASA stuff that is normally reserved for actual Network Reporters. Press Kits, Mission Patches, Mission Reports, Technical Briefings, Video tapes...lots and lots of video tapes. This is SO COOL! I'm a 26 year old space cadet and I have an inside contact at NASA!
Fast forward again to 1989. I married my first wife in 1987 and in 1988, she gets promoted and we move to NJ. Sucks to be me on both counts. I'm miserable.
But, it is 1989. The 20th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing.
My buddy at NASA finagles me an invitation to the 20th Anniversary Celebration at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum as his guest. FUCKING AWESOME! This is the dream of a lifetime.
This is a lavishly catered affair. I have no idea what most of the dishes are, but I plate them graciously and taste them discreetly.
I'm rubbing elbows with some of history's heavyweights! I remember munching an appetizer and sipping a drink and realizing that I was just 2 feet away from Alexei Leonov!
The Soviet Cosmonaut who was the first human being to venture outside his spacecraft. The first spacewalker. MY GOD!
I was really trying to be all cool and nonchalant. Didn't want to burst into fan-geek mode and embarass everybody. Wanted to conduct myself as if I actually belonged there (NOT!).
So, the evening went fairly well. I got to see and meet a lot of space program pioneers from many the U.S. and The Soviet Union without making a total ass of myself.
The evening was winding down and I was standing outside the main entrance of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, having a smoke and a chat with a security guard.
The door opens and out walks Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Buzz is surrounded by an enterouge and they all head towards a fleet of limos at the curb.
Neil Armstrong quietly, with no one in tow, walks to the corner, waits alone for the light to turn green, and then heads back to his hotel a few blocks away.
Being an incredible space-nerd, I want to sieze this opportunity to chase him down and get his autograph! It's perfect! He's alone and I have actually come prepared with writing utensils and memorabilgia.
But as I watched him walk away, I'm thinking; 'There goes the first man to set foot on the moon. He's leaving the party (in his honor, at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum) early. Twenty years ago tonight, he became the first human being to set foot on someplace other than the earth. Maybe he would like to spend some time alone."
So I let him go. I've never regretted that decision.
In searching for pictures for this post, I tried to find ones that you may have not seen before.
Here is an informal crew photo:
Relaxing around the spacecraft:
The Saturn V launch vehicle on the crawler as seen from ground level:
The Saturn V launch vehicle as seen from the top of the gantry:
Climbing towards orbit:
I wanna take you HIGHER!
The First Step