From Ohio to the Moon

Many people probably won’t immediately make the connection between the state of Ohio and the moon. I’ll give you a hint: one man took his first step here before he took a giant leap for mankind on the moon.

That man, of course, was Neil Armstrong.

Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio on August 5, 1930, but as I wandered through the Armstrong Space Museum, I quickly deduced that he had little intention of remaining rooted to the fertile farmland around him. Armstrong was quite the daredevil! After serving as a naval aviator from 1949 to 1952, Armstrong  joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) which later became NASA.

There, Armstrong served as an engineer, research pilot, astronaut and administrator. All very remarkable, but I got stuck on the idea of him being a research pilot. Research pilot… basically, a test dummy in my mind! As I read through display after display and looked at the cockpits of these ‘test’ aircrafts, I couldn’t help but wonder if Armstrong had a death wish, because he didn’t just do this once; he was a research pilot again and again, including the X-15 hypersonic rocket plane.

Armstrong also served as project pilot for research projects flown on the F-100A and F-100C aircraft, F-101, and the F-104A, the X-1B with an active reaction control system, and he flew the X-5, F-105, F-106, B-47, KC-135, and Paresev. (None of this means much to me, other than the fact that he was willing to get into the bucket seat of WAY too many untested flying machines for me. What did his mother think??)

Armstrong was not unfamiliar with ejection seats. During combat in the Korean War, he lost control of his F9F Panther and hit a pole which sheared three feet off his wing. Forced to eject, his ejection seat blew backwards and he landed on land, not water, as he expected. His roommate from flight school actually rescued him by jeep as he was passing by.

I don’t think I would have gotten in a piece of aircraft again, but Armstrong seemed fearless. A year before the moon landing, Armstrong came close to death in the lunar landing research vehicle (LLRV) at Ellington Air Force Base near Houston. On a simulated lunar descent, leaking propellant caused a total failure of flight controls. About 200 feet above ground, he employed the Weber ejection seat which saved his life as the vehicle crashed and went up in flames seconds later.

But like the saying goes, we learn from failure, and both NASA and Neil Armstrong felt confident that they were finally ready to send a man to the moon in 1969.

July 20, 1969

On this historic day in space exploration history, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and the Apollo 11 crew completed the greatest journey in human history: they landed on the moon.

Those who are old enough to remember that historic event probably remember some of the specifics. As spacecraft commander for Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission, Armstrong was the first man to land a craft on the moon AND first to step on its surface.

There were obstacles that seemed inhibitive of a safe landing. The computer guidance system alarm went off five times as the crew neared the moon’s surface. Mission Control ordered the astronauts to land anyway, since simulations had determined that the crew could override the system’s alarms and land safely. So Armstrong began manuevering the spacecraft manually, hovering 150 meters above the moon’s surface as he looked for a smooth spot for them to land. A minute and a half later, Armstrong safely landed and the world heard his message:

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” 

The Armstrong Air & Space Museum

The front entrance to the museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio

On the very day that a Wapakoneta native stepped onto the moon, Ohio governor James Rhodes proposed a museum be built as a monument to the achievements of not only Armstrong but “all Ohioans who have attempted to defy gravity,” as well as to the history of the space program itself. The state pledged $500,000 toward the project if the townspeople would match it. The people of Wapakoneta pooled together more than that — $528,313.55 to create this museum in Neil Armstrong’s honor.

The small but very educational museum humanizes Armstrong as a boy with a dream to fly, like so many other Ohio natives.

You may be surprised to learn that Ohio has produced 25 astronauts so far, including Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, and Judy Resnik, to name but a few. Is there something in the soil that propels Ohio youths to shoot for the stars? Maybe it’s the strong connection to flight grounded here in Dayton, where the Wright Brothers built their first flying machine in the back of their Dayton, Ohio bicycle shop. (Wapakoneta is about an hour north of Dayton.)

Where No Man Has Gone Before

These days, there are billionaires flying into space. Pure vanity, in my mind. I have much more respect for the deep passion and understanding of the dynamics it takes to propel a piece of aircraft not only into space, but to be able to (manually!) land it on the moon. Astronauts like Neil Armstrong inspired millions of children to dream of being an astronaut. Trips to the Armstrong Air & Space Museum continue to spark that passion. Who knows? Maybe a future Ohio astronaut will even fly beyond. The possibilities are endless.

How did the moon landing impact you?

5 responses to “From Ohio to the Moon

  1. Comes relevant today as billionaires race to a taste of space. He was quite a daredevil, as you say. And yes I am old enough to remember that great day.

  2. We love learning the history of the people who formed the background to our lives. Who doesn’t recall hearing all about the moon landings. It is the stuff that dreams are made of.

  3. What a fascinating story and tie in to this amazing person who truly was a daredevil in his days. The museum must be really interesting and filled with some cool memorabilia.

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