NASA has always been good about honoring the past. Monday was no exception. Space Agency Administrator Charles Bolden said in his remarks that it was arguably, “the most significant event in human exploration.”
Forty five years ago, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Forty five years later, the Operations and Checkout building at the Kennedy Space Center was during a ceremony renamed the Neil Armstrong O and C to honor the late astronaut and first human to walk on the moon.
Armstrong’s sons Rick and Mark were there. Mark presented a picture of his dad and fellow astronaut Pete Conrad standing in front of boat beached along the Banana River. The “mishap” happened, Mark said, during a rare down time in the 60’s. His dad was water skiing. Conrad was driving. Boys being boys.
Armstrong was always considered a very private person. Rick took time to shed a bit of light on his dad’s personality. If his dad were alive and working in the building now named for him, Rick said his dad would be fair. He’d expect you to be honest. You could always Rick said, “feel free to ask for help with your math problems. If you’re not prepared ask him about airplanes. That would buy you some time.” But, Rick offered, “Don’t try to bluff your way through the issue.”
Armstrong died two years ago. I suspect that had he been alive he would have attended the ceremony…probably grudgingly. I know his words would have been along the lines of how none of it would have happened without the “team.” He always used that to deflect attention. Apollo 13 Commander and Apollo 11 back-up Commander Jim Lovell said in his remarks that, “Neil never capitalized on his celebrity. He always felt he was part of a team.” Buzz Aldrin echoed those sentiments. Michael Collins, Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot said of Neil, “He would not have sought this honor.”
But hundreds of people attended the ceremony to honor the man whose name is now on the building. The Operations and Checkout Building was built in the early 1960’s. From Mercury on, it has been utilized during every program. Today it houses the Orion spacecraft which may one day carry humans to Mars. Orion is being readied for its first test flight later this year.
There is no getting around it, the past and the future intersect here. At one point during the ceremony, Administrator Bolden presented Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana with a patch for safe keeping until the time is right. The patch had flown on Apollo 11 and was signed by Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. The inscription on it reads, “to the Mars One crew.” There is no doubt the Apollo astronauts, all of them, and probably just about everyone who worked at NASA back in the day would have bet that patch had flown by now.
While we know what happened in the past, the future is far less certain. We can hope that Cabana won’t have to keep that patch safe for too long. Whenever that first Mars flight does take place much of the work preparing for it will likely happen here in Neil’s building. Cabana said it this way, “Forty-five years later, Neil’s spirit lives on in these halls.” And you can bet, Armstrong will be keeping a close eye on things…even if it’s just to make sure they get the math right.