By Joe Darby
If you’re in your late 50s or older, you will remember where you were when it happened. When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon and radioed back to his home planet, “That’s one small step for a man and one giant leap for mankind,” tens of millions of earthlings were glued to their TV sets or radios. And it was something we remember.
Armstrong touched the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, exactly 50 years ago this coming Saturday. His words will doubtless go down in history for many many years to come. The funny thing is, hardly anyone correctly understood exactly what he said. The quote you always hear is “…one small step for man…” The “a,” referring to himself, has been all but lost to history. Anyway, Armstrong and his Apollo 11 shipmates, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, have rightfully earned their place in the great achievements of history.
As for me, I do remember that evening quite well. I watched it with a buddy, Art Roane, a reporter for The New Orleans Times-Picayune, as was I at that time. I was still single and Art’s wife was working an evening shift, so he and I decided to have a couple of beers then go back to my place to watch the landing on TV.
We were both duly impressed by the somewhat grainy images of Armstrong making that notable step from the spacecraft’s ladder to the dusty surface of the moon. I don’t remember either Art or me making any profound comments, as part of our reaction. I suppose we uttered something along the lines of “Wow,” or “Holy smokes” or “Isn’t that something.” Maybe one of us even said something as memorable as “Hey, can you believe this!” No, we were content to be passive observers of the event, which some still call one of the most notable achievements of all human history.
It’s hard to believe that the United States has just let its space program pretty much die out. After a couple of more moon landings following Apollo 11, we never went back. The Space Shuttle was okay, but even that project has been put aside. There’s talk of going back to the moon or even to Mars. I think we should. Yes, I know of all the needs of humanity right here on earth, but our species should continue to strive and to achieve feats that will carry us on to unknown places. Hopefully, we’ll get back up in space before too much longer.
I’d like to share one more thought with you. As impressed as I was with the moon landing, the most emotional I ever got about a space achievement was when the Apollo 8 capsule orbited the moon on Christmas Eve, 1968.
I’d gone home to Baton Rouge to spend Christmas with my parents and my father and I walked out on his front lawn together and looked up at what I remember as a mostly full moon. I said (again not so profoundly), “Can you believe, Daddy, that three men are orbiting that moon right now?” and his answer was something like “I know”
Like many men of his generation, he did not show much emotion and I wish our relationship could have been closer. But I felt really close to him at that moment. I think I teared up a little and I felt like hugging the man. Of course I didn’t. But I think he felt the special mood also. I think we affectionately touched each other’s shoulders as we turned to go back inside. That was one giant trip for mankind and one small step for a father and a son.