HAZARD – For most Americans alive at the time, the Apollo 11 landing on the moon in 1969 was one of those events that they will always remember where they were when it happened. It was the first time a human being set foot on another world, and when Neil Armstrong uttered his famous line about a giant leap for mankind, it changed our world.
Armstrong, who suffered complications from cardiac procedures, died on Saturday, August 26 at the age of 82 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Armstrong was a native of tiny Wapakoneta, Ohio and served as a navy pilot from 1949 to 1952, having flown numerous combat missions during the Korean war. He went on to become a test pilot for NASA, and was a natural candidate for the agency’s space program.
Armstrong became an astronaut in 1962, according his NASA biography, and served as the command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission in 1966, during which he was one of the first people to successfully dock two vehicles in space.
Only three years later, on June 20, 1969, Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins fulfilled the vision that President John F. Kennedy described during his famous speech in 1961 to reach the moon by the end of the decade. Armstrong was the first to emerge from the lunar landing module, followed closely by Aldrin, who captured that iconic image of Armstrong standing on the moon’s surface.
“He set the standard that everyone else has gone by since,” said Tom Cravens, director of the Challenger Learning Center of Kentucky located on the campus of Hazard Community and Technical College.
Cravens turned 8 years old on the day of the Apollo 11 landing on June 20, 1969, and remarked that even by today’s standards, the landing was a remarkable feat.
“In 1969, the technology they had, it was without a doubt one of the most incredible scientific and engineering feats that there had ever been,” he said. “If you’re talking about the 20th century, I don’t know if anything could have topped that.”
The lunar landing was an event that changed the world in many people’s eyes, and many here in Eastern Kentucky who were alive at the time still remember it fondly.
Hazard resident Leah Stone was just a child when Armstrong took his small step, but her memory from that day remains vivid, as do the memories of other Perry County residents who responded to a query on the Herald’s Facebook page.
“I was 5 years old,” she said. “I remember my grandfather bought the first floor model color television that I had ever watched especially for this event and the whole family gathered at his house to watch. They told us kids not to sit too close to the TV because radiation may harm our eyes. Afterwards I remember making my father take me walking outside so I could look at the moon and see if it looked any different.”
“I actually passed through his hometown … the day he walked on the moon, on the way to Detroit, Michigan,” remembered Wayne Neace, also of Hazard. “I remember John Kennedy said we would have a man on the moon before the end of the decade, I was glad that happened and of course we beat the Russians! I was 13 years old and remember it all very well.”
“I was 7 in 1969, and remember this well,” added Debbie Wells of Hazard. “I watched it on TV with my parents and grandparents, and we all discussed what it meant. I’m so glad I got to see such an important part of history.”
Armstrong himself never really capitalized on his fame, and went on to lead a relatively quiet life as a college professor at the University of Cincinnati. He did receive several honors during his lifetime, and was decorated by 17 different countries. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal here in America, among several other honors.