Like most people, I have been enjoying reading the celebrations of a half-century ago when man finally walked on another celestial body — the moon.
I was only 10 at the time, but I vividly remember leaning up against the coffee table in my house with the parents and brothers watching, Neil Armstrong take that giant step for mankind.
The was a moment that changed how man thinks about himself in the universe. Some things are bigger and better than human beings.
That was also the moment that brought the world closer. Everyone watched with awe.
But I have two other memories that are even stronger than watching those first steps on the moon, one came a few weeks later and the other, well 40 years later.
My dad was a geologist for the United State Geological Survey in Lakewood. One day in August, he came home for lunch and wanted to know what I was doing that afternoon. Being 10, all I wanted to do was climb a tree with my best friend. My dad had other plans.
He took my friend, my mom and I back to his office after lunch.
We walked through the hallways of the U.S.G.S. into one of the labs his coworkers used to study geology.
When I walked in, I think my eyes popped out of the sockets because spread out before us was a portion of the Apollo 11 moon rocks. At the time they were split the rocks that came back to Earth, into several batches and sent them around the country to be studied.
Needless to say, when my brothers found out what I got to do that day, they were more than a little upset. (I don’t think they have ever forgiven me.)
My next encounter with Apollo 11 came when my niece had an internship at the Smithsonian Air and Space Auxiliary Building 10 years ago.
She, of course, had heard the story of the moon rocks, so when she saw what was in the building, I got a call. I had to check on my oldest niece to make sure she was doing okay. And of course, get a tour of the building.
When the director of the building heard my story, she knew why I was there.
To set the stage, inside the auxiliary building, there is a giant refrigerator where the Smithsonian stores all the historical items that have aeronautical significance that are not on display. Including Chuck Yeager’s flight suit when he broke the sound barrier in 1947.
All the suits in the refrigerator were lying on their backs covered by sheets. There was geologist and astronaut Jack Schmitt’s moon suit when he rolled around in moon dust. Still dirty as ever just like a geologist would like it.
But the last suit the director showed me —Neil Armstrong’s suit he wore while on the moon! And yes, I did get to touch it (wearing gloves of course).
At that time, she told me that before giving the suit over to the Smithsonian, Armstrong had the suit dry cleaned. Before the suit was put it back on display this year, it needed to be preserved because the chemicals use in 1969 dry cleaning had started to cause some deterioration to the material.