This week, Americans have been remembering Neil Armstrong. But before he walked on the moon, he had to solve a much more prosaic problem.
"You're about to embark on a mission that's more dangerous than anything any human has ever done before," Robert Pearlman, a space historian and collector with collectspace.com, told me. "And you have a family that you're leaving behind on Earth, and there's a real chance you will not be returning."
About 10,000 people live in Wapakoneta, Ohio — half that in the 1960s. In 1969, the town wanted to honor the most famous Wapakonetan (so far), the first man to step on the moon, Neil Armstrong. So they had a parade. Here's the front page of the paper that day.
NEIL ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's remember the man who spoke those words on the moon. Neil Armstrong died on Saturday after a lifetime that inspired many people, including Neil DeGrasse Tyson, director of New York's Hayden Planetarium who is on the line. Good morning. Welcome back to the program.
NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: Yeah, good morning. Thanks for having me back.
On July 18, 1969, President Nixon's speechwriter Bill Safire drafted a statement — a just-in-case statement. The manned mission to the Moon was only days away. The White House was preparing for all contingencies. According to Safire, the chances of getting Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin onto the moon were pretty good.