First man.

I never met Neil Armstrong, but as a native Ohioan, I always felt I knew him at a different level than those who weren’t. I don’t have any particularly acute memories of his first steps on the lunar surface; I dozed until my mom shook me awake for the big moment, after which I dozed off again. I was at a friend’s house when the Eagle landed, and her father — her father, not her mother — shed a few tears.

“Maybe I paid for a few screws,” he said, wiping his eyes.

Alan, who lived closer to Wapakoneta, Armstrong’s northwest Ohio hometown, went with his family for the astronaut’s homecoming. Tens of thousands packed the streets of the northwest Ohio farm town for the big parade. He remembers drinking Mountain Dew rebranded as Moon Juice.

Later, after he’d retired from the space program, Armstrong returned to Ohio to live, teaching at the University of Cincinnati. He gave very few interviews (but some). He was that increasingly rare bird in American life — the truly self-effacing man. He knew his role in history, and participated in responsible scholarship to document and preserve the experience. He talked to serious journalists on significant anniversaries, cooperated with an authorized biography, but never, ever capered for an outsize share of the glory. What many are saying this weekend is true: The space program was one with many, many moving parts, and he was only one of them. His insistence that he not take more credit than was his due may seem strange to us now, at a time when so many publicity hounds bay for the spotlight, but once upon a time this was known as character.

About 10 years or so, I ran across a column about NASA written by an English journalist. It portrayed Armstrong as a bitter recluse, a grouchy crank whose tossed-off quip that he hoped someday his footprints on the lunar surface would be erased was evidence of something approaching mental illness. You’d think an Englishman would recognize modesty when he saw it, but by then we were well into the LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK LOOK AT MEEEEEE era, and maybe he just couldn’t imagine how a man could be satisfied with a college professor’s salary and pension when he could make zillions on the speaking circuit.

Later, I interviewed Armstrong’s biographer, James Hansen, a Fort Wayne native and Purdue graduate. He said he thought the astronaut chose him for the job because Hansen was essentially a science journalist, not a personality profiler, and Armstrong wanted to make sure the whole team of geeks got their due. I think he was right. (I haven’t read the book.)

Someone in my Facebook network posted a wry observance Sunday morning, noting that the story of the birth of Snooki’s baby was already No. 1 on Yahoo’s most-read news index, while Armstrong’s death was at #5. That says a lot, right there.

I asked Hansen to tell me something about the moon landing I might not already know. He said that in parts of the Muslim world, it is believed that Armstrong heard the Islamic call to prayer while on the lunar surface, and immediately upon returning to earth, sought out the proper religious authorities and converted to Islam. (It’s true. The rumor, that is.) Armstrong had to issue a statement a few years back. Apparently these Muslims believe he lived in Lebanon, which is true, but Lebanon, Ohio, near the former home of Kash’s Big Bargain Barn, not Kashi’s Falafel Palace.

Anyway, an amusing nugget that, if I’d ever met the man in person, I’d have liked to ask him about. However, the fact he would have just as soon keep mum about it is fine.

A good weekend around these parts. I spent some of it thinking about St. Lance the Imperfect; maybe that’ll be gelled by tomorrow.

In the meantime, have a great week. Not much bloggage to speak of, but thanks to Little Bird for finding the invisible bike helmet, which is either genius or a well-produced prank.

If you’re near Isaac, stay safe.

Posted at 12:30 am in Current events |

74 responses to “First man.”

  1. Dexter said on August 27, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Apparently the Vimeo film was from Copenhagen. The bikes in The Netherlands and Sweden always fascinate me, but this invisible helmet leaves me doubtful…the dummy was hit and the helmet inflated, but without direct impact…it looks like it needs some way to trigger the mechanism to inflate it…so Mr. Gertten, we need more information.

    We were in Defiance today and a temp sign read 95 degrees, my car read 96, and The Weather Channel reported it was 90, then back home it was 89. That was a little strange, but summer is definitely still here, and the 90 degrees or whatever it really was felt very hot.

    The Neil Armstrong Airport , which I have been seeing the exit to for many years but have never been to, is about ten miles southwest of Wapakoneta in New Knoxville.
    I wrote here yesterday how for years I have been hearing that Armstrong could be seen out and about around Indian Hill where he lived, several times a week at the Kroger or other stores, and the only thing I heard about him in a negative way was how after doing it for years, he finally quit personally signing “atta boy” certificates for Eagle Scouts who had ascended to that rank. There was a story about how he just thought a family member or community leader who knew the kid should sign the paper…other than that, people seemed to love just seeing the old boy at the grocery store and around town. I was told he lived in a mansion…what do you think…is this place, which was his home, a mansion or just a really nice home?

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  2. Dorothy said on August 27, 2012 at 6:08 am

    Really, really nice post today Nancy. I realized recently that I don’t say that very often. Not that you need to hear it, but that I should remember to say it and thank you for so many pleasant words to read so often!

    We are just about done with all the work we’ve had to do in the condo for Mike’s aunt. This has been ongoing since mid-April. All of her clothing is gone, the pictures taken down from the wall, we’ve lined up a cleaning crew to come in later today after the St. Vincent dePaul Society takes away her furniture. We found an honest contractor to do the painting and plastering (the cousin of my nephew’s cousin so he’s like family), met with a realtor who handled our home sale 10 years ago when we moved from Pittsburgh, washed so many dishes and packed them up, have lined up lots of good stuff to put in the Revue consignment shop in Columbus, the list goes on and on…. and yesterday when we went to visit with her, she pouted all afternoon because we didn’t save her off-white winter jacket that she “looks so nice in.” I’ve never wanted to slap an 86 year old woman so badly before but boy howdy did I want to yesterday. You’re welcome, Dolores, you ungrateful snot rag of a woman.

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  3. ROGirl said on August 27, 2012 at 6:15 am

    I used to travel to Ocala, Florida for work. During one September trip a huge storm was sitting in the Atlantic, getting bigger each day. People at the plant couldn’t talk of anything else, were going to the store for water and other supplies, anticipating that the storm would roll right across central Florida. Ocala is about as far from the ocean as you can get in the state. I finally asked if a hurricane had ever hit Ocala; the last time had been in 1927.

    With the storm growing and not moving, the plant finally announced that it was closing, because the schools were closing. The airports were going to close too (they were moving all their planes out), so I had to change my flight. I called my travel service and got a seat on a 7:30 am flight out of Orlando (the normal route for the trip). I had to leave Ocala around 3:30 am (it’s 90 miles away) to make my flight. When I hit the Florida Turnpike the toll booths were empty and wide open because the coast was being evacuated. I had a seat on a jam packed 747.

    That storm ended up bypassing Florida for the most part, but it did a lot of flood damage in North Carolina.

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  4. Suzanne said on August 27, 2012 at 7:17 am

    Lovely tribute for Neil Armstrong. I hate it that his humble but successful type seems to be a thing of the past.

    Of course, we all know that he didn’t REALLY walk on the moon. All done on a Hollywood sound-stage and that is why he didn’t go out on the speaking circuit. He feared he might slip up and let the truth cat out of the bag…

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  5. Rob Kantner said on August 27, 2012 at 7:28 am

    Thanks for the comment about Neil Armstrong. I too feel a connection with him, because my mother grew up in Wapakoneta and was two years behind Armstrong at Blume High School. I spent many summers in the area (my grandfather’s farm was 5 miles from Neil Armstrong Airport at New Knoxville), visited the Neil Armstrong museum (interesting) – but more than all this, have had lifelong respect for Armstrong’s character. You summarized that better than I ever could, and I thank you.

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  6. churchlady said on August 27, 2012 at 8:19 am

    I have to echo Dorothy and say that was a really nice post about Neil Armstrong.

    As for that Lance fellow, I’m surprised people haven’t been talking about him over the weekend. It just seems odd to suddenly give up seven /Tour de France awards and so on. But I don’t know anything about this.

    The Empire State Building shooting was pretty horrifying. But so is this:

    All nine civilian injuries during the shoot-out were hit by police weapons. It’s something to think about the next time someone argues that a mass killing could have been prevent if more people were carrying guns.

    And a “doll house” for boys…

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  7. Suzanne said on August 27, 2012 at 8:40 am

    My sentiments exactly, churchlady. If trained professionals with guns had trouble not hitting innocent bystanders, what chance would there be for some yahoo with a pistol in, oh, let’s say, a dark crowded theater filled with smoke?

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  8. coozledad said on August 27, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Witnesses to the shooting said the police appeared to be firing randomly. Juiced at getting a chance to shoot something, probably.

    The cops at the bar where I used to work talked about unintentional discharges of firearms that routinely disabled members of the force. They could barely keep from shooting themselves, let alone anyone else.
    This is what happens when you select for dumbasses.

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  9. Julie Robinson said on August 27, 2012 at 9:27 am

    It was a lovely post, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like a genuine compliment.

    Dorothy, Dolores sounds aptly named, someone who is totally self-centered and isn’t happy unless she’s got something to complain about. You can’t avoid her, so I’m glad you have a safe place to vent.

    Coozledad, I have several cop friends and they are very intelligent people who could have been rich businessmen but instead chose a life of low pay, sacrifice and danger in order to serve the public. I’ve watched their wives’ fear when they go out on a call. I’m horrified by what happened in NYC, but prefer not to paint all cops with that brush.

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  10. BigHank53 said on August 27, 2012 at 9:30 am

    I remember when I found out what the starting wages were for a uniformed officer. I am no longer surprised at the dumb shit they do.

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  11. Connie said on August 27, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Mitch Albom is all over the new book news as his new book is officially published tomorrow. This from Early Word: The Time Keeper by Mitch Albom (Hyperion; Thorndike Large Print) marks a return to fiction by the author of Tuesdays With Morrie and Five People You Meet in Heaven. This fable is about Father Time, who returns to Earth to liberate us by teaching the true meaning of time, with the help of a teenage girl and an old business man. Sounds really awful to me, but that’s Mitch.

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  12. Jolene said on August 27, 2012 at 10:04 am

    I don’t know that this has been confirmed, but I read one early report saying that it appeared that some of the bystanders had been hit by bullets that ricocheted off street planters, a speculation that was supported by the fact that some of the wounds were in the lower legs.

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  13. Jolene said on August 27, 2012 at 10:10 am

    Speaking of guns, the NYT has a long article re the Aurora, Colorado shooter. Really impressive reporting. Would have been interesting to know how they found some of the people they spoke to, as their connection with Holmes was fleeting.

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  14. brian stouder said on August 27, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Neil Armstrong is absolutely an American Hero; a genuine ‘strong, silent type’. If anyone on Earth had Tom Wolfe’s “Right Stuff” – it was Armstrong*. And as Nancy indicated, there is something quintessentially small-town/Ohioan about him; cooperative, neighborly, determinedly not flashy despite having a literally out-of-this-world thing that he could have bragged about and/or capitalized upon.

    And indeed, not only was he first on the moon, but he also (and importantly) set the expectations bar very high, for others who would follow him, and call themselves ‘astronauts’. If, 300 years from now, a scholarly history of the 20th century is written, his name will be right there, on the dust jacket** blurbs.

    *not Lance!

    **yeah yeah yeah – no more dust jackets; but he’ll be featured on the 24th century equivalent!

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  15. Joe K said on August 27, 2012 at 10:38 am

    Good write on Neil Armstrong.
    Well done.
    Pilot Joe

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  16. Jeff Borden said on August 27, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I tend to think good and bad police officers are roughly proportional to the good and bad of other professions, but when they do go wrong, it’s ugly and they usually can count on the support of brother officers. When I worked the police beat, I used to ask good cops why they stood in solidarity with the creeps and freaks who brought shame on them all. The answered to a man (there were no female beat cops in those days) that the same thing might happen to them someday and they would want the support of their fellow officers and the FOP. I argued in vain that they were better people than the bad coppers. Police do have a rough job and it’s getting worse. When I covered the police beat, a heavy duty weapon was a sawed-off shotgun. Obviously, the firearms out there today are far more deadly and far more prevalent.

    To me, the best assessment of the NYC shootings was that trained professionals were no more accurate in their shootings than a rank amateur might be, which blows a huge hole in the gun nut theory that if we were all armed we’d be safer. These are the cretins certain they would have brought down the Aurora, Colo. loon with their straight-shootin’. . .you know, they’d have plugged Holmes in the dark amid the screaming, the smoke, the confusion. Instead, the NYC shooting vividly demonstrates what a clusterfuck occurs when people start shooting in a very confined space under terribly confusing conditions.

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  17. LAMary said on August 27, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Tough week to be an Armstrong. That guy from Green Day should be careful.
    I have huge respect for Neil Armstrong. My son said that thing I wrote up there and I laughed in spite of myself.

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  18. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Fox News was all over that Neil Armstrong, Muslim astronaut story.

    See, Fox can’t stand those tree huggers at NASA, pitching the global warming hoax.

    Hard to fault the NYC cops in this incident, but the Department has a sort of spotty history. Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, a mobbed up thug police commissioner, Bernie Kerik, that Giuliani thought would make a great Sec. of Homeland Security. My general opinions about cops come in large part from having read The Choirboys. Not a pretty picture, nor inspiring of confidence. America would end up safer, eventually, with everybody armed. The yahoos would all end up shooting each other. Lynyrd Skynrd had this right.

    And I am buying that rocket ship for my grandson.

    A doll house for this boy should definitely have Echo and Ciera in it. And the two young women inventors of the invisible bike helmet. Smart women are just incredibly cool.

    The USADA has spent millions pursuing Lance Armstrong and has never produced a positive test within its protocols. The organization masquerades as some sort of government entity with a cocked-up name, and displays an interest in justice and due process that is every bit the equal of the NCAA. Officious jerks that were probably all very bad at sports. Similar to the Congressional crusade against Barry Bonds. We know he was juicing because his head got bigger and his body thicker. Anybody looked at Magic Johnson lately.The one test sample ever, out of hundreds, that seemed to indicate Armstrong was doping, was taken home by a testing lab employee and kept in his refrigerator for a long weekend. And the guy was French, and people in France are not fans of Americans that win the Tour seven times.

    LA Mary, and 900-ft. Jesus is probably coming for Garner Ted.

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  19. LAMary said on August 27, 2012 at 11:24 am

    Wow, I forgot about Garner Ted. How could I forget a good local Pasadena boy?

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  20. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 11:43 am

    If GOPers ever get over their fear of thunderstorms, they intend to parade a line of speakers to the podium to claim they did, in fact, build it themselves. Here’s one of those self-righteous self-congratulatory jerks:

    SBA grant? Say it ain’t so, lady.

    I love reading Garner Ted Armstrong’s forays in his magazine into his impassioned avocation, Middle Eastern anthropology. That guy is full goose loony.

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  21. LAMary said on August 27, 2012 at 11:46 am

    Was a full goose loony. He died a few years ago.

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  22. Lex said on August 27, 2012 at 11:47 am

    Neil Armstrong is dead. Snooki’s baby is alive. For Neil’s sake, I hope there’s no such thing as reincarnation.

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  23. Ann said on August 27, 2012 at 11:51 am

    A great Neil Armstrong story from a FB friend of mine, Mike Gebert.

    “Here’s my Neil Armstrong story. I was working on Hallmark at Leo Burnett and we got something showing the upcoming ornaments for whatever year it was. And there’s one of an astronaut which played a recording of “One small step for man…”

    And I said, hey, how’d they get rights to Neil Armstrong? Because he’s really careful about not commercializing his image. And they said, oh, it’s not Neil Armstrong, it’s “First man on the moon.” And I said, that’s like “President who freed the slaves” or “Woman who broke up the Beatles,” we all know who it is. Shut up, they explained.

    About a year later, I see a headline…

    Neil Armstrong, Hallmark Settle

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  24. Lex said on August 27, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Also, too: Fox’s Monica Crowley actually tweeted this weekend something to the effect that as we mourn Armstrong’s death, we need to remember that among NASA’s goals is Muslim outreach. (This actually is a thing, but, as is often the case with Fox, out of context.) I guess Monica thinks Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to reach for the stars. Or something.

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  25. nancy said on August 27, 2012 at 11:54 am

    My sister had that ornament! She might still have it. I always liked pressing its button a few times during the Christmas visit. It stopped working a few years ago. Before I read the last sentence, I thought maybe that was the money that built that handsome house Dexter linked to. But noooo. Like the good guy he was, he donated the dough to Purdue.

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  26. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Here’s what an actual cop says about the shootings in NYC. This guy obviously doesn’t think much of concealed carry for everybody, a genuinely insane idea. All over the intertubes today, NRA types will be dumping on alleged liberals for not supporting the police. Convenient forgettery of the fact their Pres candidate of choice said first responders and teachers are a drain on the American economy and that some of them should lose their jobs.

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  27. Connie said on August 27, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I can’t believe I am mentioning Mitch Albom twice in one day. His latest column for the Free Press is about Honey Boo Boo. He doesn’t think much of her, her family, or the TV show.

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  28. brian stouder said on August 27, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Connie – you must have the itch for readin’ some Mitch!

    If his bottomline is a no-go for the Boo Boo, then he has proven the old “stopped clock is right twice a day” thing…although mechanical clocks that can “stop” are becoming anachronistic.

    A total non-sequitur: cool stuff in Fort Wayne next week –

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  29. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Very simply, what is wrong with US government spending (and yep, that is $2.2million/minute):

    And Willard wants to bump it up. What a fracking tool.

    I’m enjoying thinking about all the GOPers in Tampa afraid of the storm while Willard Windsock is determined to do something nutso. He wants to privatize FEMA. Because hurricanes don’t bring out profiteers? No, not really, it’s because Mitt thinks profiteers are a powerful force for good in an economy. And undoubtedly Ayn Ryan thinks profiteers are saints in the hierarchy of his favorite novelist, Gordon Gekko,…er…Ann O’Connor, her government dole name. Protecting the brand. FEMA is the perfect poster child for GOP privatising nonsense. Clinton had James Lee Witt, who knew what the hell he was doing. Shrub replaced Witt with Heckuva Job Brownie, who was an epert on dancing horses of something equally irrelevant.

    Damn, we are smack-dab in the Isaac backwash. Spectacular humidity, rising from the sandy soil. Still, it’s only a TS you wimps. And it already went by. They don’t make U-Turns.

    And new books via UPS. New Martin Amis novel, and a new one from Ivan Doig. And Wayward Saints, by the sublime Suzzy Roche: (Frippertronics, music direct from the Supreme Being)

    I always have mixed fellings about buying Martin Amis’ books. He’s an odious misanthrope, but his books crack me the hell up. This most recent sounds like he’s cribbing Oliver Twist. Probably not with the skill of Peter Carey in Jack Maggs, but still, if you steal, steal from the best. Fascinating political book called Days of Destruction Days of Revolt, some of which is presented in graphic form.

    Somehow, I’m betting Mitch’s parents called him Boo Boo when he was a tyke.

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  30. Connie said on August 27, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    This is fun: famous album covers superimposed against their actual New York locations:

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  31. coozledad said on August 27, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    Chris Matthews makes Reintz Pubis make dooty face:
    Tom Brokaw needs to get back to the ranch, kick his feet up on his desk, and finish choking to death on those mashed potatoes.

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  32. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Mrs. Costello sings Fly Me to the Moon to honor the life and times of Neil Armstrong. Man, I love her voice.

    I’d say this is the dreaded iconic NYC album cover. But those are very cool Connie. Could have replaced one of those from NYC’s most dangerous driver.

    I think the guy’s name is actually Rinse Previous, as in baptizing Anne Frank retroactively.

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  33. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Todd Akin isn’t an outlier, he’s the quintessential GOPer:

    Pick a policy, any policy, and the answers will be both predictable and virtually identical throughout the rank and file. This is now a party that to a man and woman believe that climate change and evolution are nothing more than hoaxes; birth control promotes promiscuity; there is such a thing as “forcible” rape; homosexuality is an abomination; the cause of the Great Recession was Fannie and Freddie; the stimulus and auto bailout were a waste of taxpayer money; the banks should have been allowed to fail; environmental and financial regulations are costly and unnecessary; the Civil Rights Act went too far; tax cuts pay for themselves; and, last but hardly least, birtherism is a legitimate issue.

    Let’s not forget, contraceptives and abortions cause breast cancer.

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  34. Dexter said on August 27, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    Well, not much discussion on the invisible bicycle helmet, but anyway, here is a companion piece: a totally cardboard bicycle.

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  35. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    What the fracking hell, Willard? Is that with the individual mandate or without. There is something wrong with this guy.

    Wow. Even for GOPers, these people are boneheads. Honest to God, if someone can be proven to have voted for Jim Sensenbrenner, why should he ever be trusted to vote again?

    Is it me or does something seem amiss with the cost figures for the invisible bike helmet and the recharge? It’s mighty expensive for someone that has as many run-ins with automobiles as I seem to. Still, the helmet is a remarkable engineering feat, and I’d love to meet those two women. Serious attitude, zero pretension.

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  36. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Superb Achenbach piece about Neil Armstrong. Increasingly, I believe this guy is the best newspaper writer in the bidness.

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  37. Dorothy said on August 27, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Cooze play nice about Tommy Brokaw. He was nice to my father about a dozen years ago. We think very highly of him in my family.

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  38. Connie said on August 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Brian, I did not go out looking for MItch Albom, he just found me. He is always there in my quick morning look at the Free Press ( and there he was on Early Word, which I usually check on Monday to see this week’s big Tuesday releases.

    Did you know most newly published books are released on Tuesdays? Bookstores and libraries sign a legal agreement with their main providers to hold all new items until their release date. If we won’t sign it we don’t get them prior to release dates. Most hot new books arrive in house a week or two before release and we abide by the requirements of the embargo.

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  39. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    RMoney claims he obtained no benefit whatever from putting his cash in Switzerland and the Caymans. The obvious question, then, is cui bono, Mittens? Just don’t trust American banks?

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  40. Little Bird said on August 27, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    The cost of that cardboard bike would offset the $600 needed to buy one of the invisible helmets! Considering how small and ineffectual most conventional helmets seem, I don’t know that this would be any worse.

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  41. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    This is the Ivan Doig book I just got, and it sounds great. The guy is a great stylist and creator of characters.

    I’m trying in vain to form a mental image of a 485-pounder on that cardboard bike.

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  42. Connie said on August 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I love Ivan Doig and I just go my library copy of his new book and Laura Lippman’s new book. On my list of all time faves: Ivan Doig, Dancing at the Rascal Fair.

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  43. LAMary said on August 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Dorothy, Tom Brokaw is slipping a bit. I’ve heard him call Mitt Romney George Romney on several occasions and the funky speech quirks are getting harder to understand. He’s become an old git.

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  44. Sue said on August 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm

    LAMary, or as Charles Pierce puts it:
    ‘poor Tom Brokaw, who freaking covered the civil-rights movement and knows good and well which party latched on to the wrong side of those events and rode them to glory, looks as though he might have a stroke’

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  45. Prospero said on August 27, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Ivan Doig review:

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  46. Sherri said on August 27, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    I loved Dancing at the Rascal Fair, as well as the other two books in Doig’s Montana trilogy, English Creek and Ride with Me, Mariah Montana.

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  47. Ann said on August 27, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Another great Armstrong story (and video). Ejects from an exploding lunar lander and then