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Remembering Ohio Connections To The Moon Landing

Jul 19, 2019

A blurry figure came on television screens all over the world on July 20th, 1969.

The astronaut, in a bulky space suit, backed down the steps of the lunar module known as Eagle. Then he made a short a hop down ----into the ashy powder on the surface of the moon. 

Neil Armstrong, a 38-year-old pilot born in Wapakoneta, Ohio was the first man on the moon- 50 years ago.

Dunned in his space suit, mission commander Neil A. Armstrong does a final check of his communications system before before the boarding of the Apollo 11 mission.
Credit NASA Image and Video Library

As the launch approached, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton had a request for Neil Armstrong: take two fragments from the 1903 Wright Brothers airplane to the moon. Armstrong said yes, and tucked a piece of wood from the left propeller and a piece of fabric from the wing in a pocket in his spacesuit.

And the Wright Brothers plane went to the moon.

Neil Armstrong got his first pilot license when he was 16, trained by World War II veterans on a grassy field in Wapakoneta. He joined the Navy to fly 78 combat missions in the Korean war.  He was calm, able to land a damaged plane or eject if needed.

"The test pilot is solving problems and you're always working with the unknowns. And I found that a fascinating part of my career path. I really enjoy the opportunity to contribute in some way to the solution of problems," said Armstrong in his official NASA oral history.

And then the challenge was made by President John F. Kennedy. America must go to the moon.

"But why some say the moon?" said Kennedy in a now-famous 1962 speech. "Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We chose to go to the moon."

Neil Armstrong piloted the lunar module, Eagle, with its thin, spiky legs. On the descent to the moon, a computer sounded an alarm. Mission control was worried.

"My own feeling was that as long as everything was going well and looked right," said Armstrong. "I would be in favor of continuing no matter what the computer was complaining about."

Neil Armstrong was not chatty. A historian asked him if had been gazing up at the moon before the mission.

And Armstrong said, “No, I never did that.”

When Neil Armstrong did speak, it was often worth repeating. “The Eagle has landed,” he said when they touched down on the moon. The ladder was pushed out. And Neil Armstrong backed down the steps and then sort of lingered on the last step.

And then, 11 words, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Armstrong was joined by astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the moon and they got to work.

A soil sample was first, then they placed a plaque, that read in part “we came in peace for all mankind.” They drove a pole into the moon surface for the American flag, and then took photographs, and collected rock samples for NASA.

Neil Armstrong says a lot of things surprised him, especially the atmosphere.

"I was absolutely dumbfounded when I shot the rocket engine off and the paths particles were going out radiantly from the bottom of the engine belt all the way, all over the horizon. I went to shut the engine off. They just raced out over the horizon and instantaneously disappeared. Just like [it] had been shut off for a week, and that was remarkable. I've never seen anything like that," he said.

After 21 hours, they had to leave. The flag was blown down as the Eagle lifted off. Neil Armstrong gave the fragments of the Wright Flyer back to the museum. And on July 20, for one day, they will be on exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton. And in Wapokeneta, there will be five other Ohio astronauts to meet at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum.

Culture Couch is made possible by a generous grant from the Ohio Arts Council.