When I heard of his passing today, I flashed back to that July day in 1969 when I watched the fuzzy images from the moon showing Armstrong taking that one giant leap for mankind. The fact that Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were walking on a distant world was more than one of the greatest scientific accomplishments in history.
It was proof – especially for a 15 year old who wanted desperately to be an astronaut – that dreams could come true. Humans are only bound by the laws of physics and time. Otherwise, the options are limitless.
Sadly, it became clear early in my life that I didn’t have the right stuff to be an astronaut but was better suited for the write stuff. It was through writing that I got to do something I never thought would happen. I got to meet the entire crew of Apollo 11.
Back when I was working at the newspaper in Bakersfield, there was an annual business conference that attracted the biggest names in sports, entertainment and politics. Each year, the staff was assigned stories based on the beats they covered. Obviously, I got the entertainers.
Armstrong, Aldrin and Michael Collins were at the event one year — I am pretty certain for the 25th anniversary of the moon landing. After all the the assignments had been passed out, there was no one left to cover the trio. That would have been a tragic oversight and I volunteered.
That night, appropriately against a full moon, the pair appeared at the conference. I again felt like that 15-year-old who had been able to witness one of mankind’s greatest moments.
The other question I often get asked is whether or not I get nervous when I am interviewing a major celebrity. It doesn’t matter if an actor has a handful of Oscars or his/her last movie made $100 billion. Everybody seems pretty down to Earth after talking to two of the 12 men who have walked on the moon.
It’s sad the space administration is being treated so badly. That means the chances keep going down that future generations will get to witness such a major accomplishment as many of us got to see back in 1969. I feel blessed that Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins and the thousands of people behind their flight to the moon whose names we will never know showed us that one small step can also be an amazing inspiration for dreamers.