Welcome to SkyTours with Derrick! If you've ever found yourself under the night sky wondering what that thing is, well, you've come to the right place to find out. I'll provide regular postings of just what's available for you to see at this time of this year, including planets, stars, constellations and my favorite - satellites! I'll also welcome your suggestions for what to add to the blog for your information and answer your questions.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Has This Model Been Discontinued?

I don't have a personal story about having met Neil Armstrong. Let's just say our circles didn't overlap. Unlike many others who met him or idolized him, he wasn't my hero either. But he was certainly a person of high achievement and great integrity. He accomplished an extraordinary task, one unlike almost any other in the history of mankind, yet he never 'traded' on its significance. Most extraordinary. And for that (as well as his incredible ability to perform in the highest pressure situation ever known), I laud him.

Many would say that his passing marks the very tail-end of a remarkable era, that of the Greatest Generation. NBC News icon Tom Brokaw coined the term to describe those men and women whose personal needs took a far backseat to the formidable task of defeating Germany and Japan in the Second World War. For Armstrong, his assignment as Commander of Apollo 11 was never about the individual but always about the goal and the team that would make it possible to achieve the goal. He was a finely tuned instrument that would help make it possible for America to achieve the greatest technological challenge ever known to humankind. We didn't know very much about Armstrong when he came to the assignment and even after he played his part in accomplishing the goal of landing a man on the moon, he purposely made it almost impossible to know much about his life. It was never about him, it was about the mission to which he was assigned and its successful accomplishment.

Are there still people like this in the today's world? Undoubtedly, there are quiet 'heroes' all around us but the world has changed. Now one can be famous just for being famous. You don't have to do anything challenging, dangerous, civilization-advancing, or intellectually remarkable to be famous. Cmdr. Armstrong's deeds made him famous. The world tried to make Cmdr. Armstrong a famous personality but he wouldn't allow it. And again, for that, I laud him.

My one story about Cmdr. Armstrong is so tangential. In the earliest version (2002) of a space science exhibit here at Franklin Institute entitled Space Command, we had on display memorabilia of one of the men who worked in the 'white room' for Apollo missions. The 'white room' is the area at the top of the rocket launch tower at Kennedy Space Center where astronauts enter the spacecraft and the space craft doors are closed and locked from the outside(in the Space Shuttle era this room was called the 'close-out' room). Over the years, this 'white room' worker collected all kinds of images and signatures from the astronauts of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and even Space Shuttle programs. One of his items we had on display was a personal check. It was written out to him by Neil Armstrong. Apparently Neil owed him $10.00! The account names printed on the check were Neil and his then-wife Janet and it was signed by Neil, but – get this – it was dated July 16, 1969, the day the crew of Apollo 11 blasted off atop the Saturn V, headed for what became the most historic journey ever.

Among all the other things Armstrong needed to be concerned with that day, he pays off a $10. debt? Was it really that important?  Or was it a practical joke of some sort? Not likely. Armstrong didn't seem to be that kind of guy. Maybe it was an unusual way to mark the day in a special way for a special friend? Did he think there was a chance he wouldn't return so he squared all his accounts? I never got the real story. The materials belonged to a guy who bought them from a friend, a NJ dentist, the son of the guy who worked close-out for Apollo missions. The father and son hadn't been on speaking terms, the father died, and the son just wanted to get rid of the stuff. When offered to us to purchase, we declined since we are not a collections museum. I have no idea where the stuff is today, probably sold into a private collection. But I always thought that check might tell a story of one man's great integrity.

Ad Astra Neil.