When my great grandmother was born in 1894, there were no cars, telephones, airplanes or electricity where she lived. Her life existed around a small geographic distance. The nearest small town was two miles away and the larger town was about 14 miles away. I’ve often wondered how she and my great grandfather met as he lived on the other side of the county and even in 1908 when they married that had to be quite a distance away. At 16 years old, she traveled clear across the country on a train to meet up with her husband in Troy, OR. She lived in a shack up on Grouse Flats alone through long periods of time while her husband worked on the railroad. My mother once asked her if she would have wanted to live in any other time in history. My great grandmother replied that no – she couldn’t imagine a lifetime like hers. In her lifetime, cars became commonplace, planes could take you clear across the world, phones could reach family across the country and radio and television opened the world to everyone. She said the greatest thing was that she could think of was that she had seen a man land on the moon live on television.
Saturday, an American hero died. For most of his life, he led a private existence but for a few short weeks in 1969, he was possibly one of our greatest heroes. Along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong fulfilled the dreams of our country and landed on the moon. It was a “great leap for mankind.” Neil Armstrong grew up loving airplanes and flying. As a young man he flew dozens of missions in Korea and worked as a test pilot. However, he will always be remembered as the first man who stepped on the moon.
My mother assured me that I watched the moon landing, although at two years old, it didn’t make a huge impression. When we visited Cape Canaveral in 1978 – the history of space travel became alive for me. At eleven years old it was thrilling to see an astronaut walk about in a space suit. The huge Saturn 5 rockets and the space capsules we saw were awe inspiring. What really made an impression was the sight of the shuttle Enterprise.
In 1981, I remember watching with my parents and siblings the launching of the shuttle Columbia and five years later I remember hearing in an elevator that Challenger had exploded. For the next several days, I was glued to the television watching anything and everything about the shuttle and crying at the loss of the crew and the shuttle. In my lifetime, space flight has been a common occurrence – I can conceive of man landing on another planet in my lifetime. I don’t think that it was ever something that my great grandmother could have conceived of in her youth. I think of how awe inspiring it was for her to hear of Wilber and Orville Wright flying the first plane or Lindbergh flying a plane across the ocean.
Just as the Wright brothers were pioneers who inspired a generation to fly planes, Neil Armstrong was one of those heroes who have inspired a generation to dream of space flight and distant worlds. On that long ago night on July 21, 1969, the population of earth watched a man step on the lunar surface for the first time on live television. My whole family watched as Neil Armstrong’s boot landed on the lunar surface and he proclaimed that it was “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind!” I think of those like my great grandmother who probably never dreamed of seeing such a thing in their lifetime watching the television set with probably more wide-eyed wonder than anyone else…and I think of men like Neil Armstrong who have inspired generations to dream beyond earth’s horizon!