If you haven’t heard the news yet, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, died Saturday from complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures. He was 82. I’ll never forget the night he and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin walked out onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969. Who could forget those first words from the moon after their harrowing landing:
“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
I was 15 at the time and had a camera and tripod ready to go in front of the black-and-white TV set in the basement. Watching the quiet drama unfold, I squeezed the shutter button to record one of mankind’s greatest achievements. Armstrong’s left foot touched the lunar surface at exactly 9:56:15 p.m. (CDT). I got it! Tonight I dug around my current basement for those photos, but in the blizzard of life since 1969, I’ve lost or misplaced them. Luckily, memory serves well.
There aren’t many pictures of Armstrong on the moon because he had the camera during most of the time he and Aldrin were outside the module. That’s why you see Aldrin in most of the first moon landing images. There’s only one high-quality still image of Armstrong (above); the rest is low-res TV and film.
No matter. He did the deed and returned home to tell the tale. He and Buzz inspired lots of us kids and teens to think about space and space travel. And yes, I wanted to be an astronaut. We pointed our little scopes at the moon at every opportunity. I remember memorizing the vague area in the Sea of Tranquillity where Aldrin and Armstrong walked so I’d be ready to point it out to parents or friends when they inevitably asked. People still ask to this day.
While Armstrong brought the moon closer to us, it’s what he said about the Earth that sticks in my mind:
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
Thanks Neil for making the first tracks in the long and winding path to the asteroids, planets and beyond.