Saturday, August 25, 2012

RIP, Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong passed away today.  Here's a repost from the day I met him.



When it comes to morale tours, this is the stuff...

Every once in a while, while we're down here in the hot sandy place-- Oh, didn't I mention that I've been in the hot sandy place since just before Christmas? No? Ah. Well, I have been. But I'm going home soon, so no matter. Where was I?

Ah, yes. Every once in a while, we get a morale tour through here. Think USO, Bob Hope, like that, only not as cool. The Washington Redskins Cheerleaders. A band called "Saving Abel." Four NFL guys whose names I frankly couldn't be bothered to learn (although I am grateful that they took the time to come visit, really, because there are some real football nuts here, it's just that I'm not one of them, and... oh, tangent again. Sorry.) They're OK, these tours, and as I just said, they do show that folks care, and they do boost morale, if you're into whatever they're famous for.

Which leads me to today. Take a look at these guys.

Do any of them look familiar? Maybe not, but I know you know at least three of the names. They're arranged onstage from left to right in approximate order of coolness, in my opinion. Ready to find out who they are? OK, here goes.

Robert Gilliland. Former chief test pilot at Lockheed's Skunk Works. The first guy EVER to fly an SR-71, and the guy who flew the first flight of every production SR-71 made. He has spent more time travelling at Mach 2 and Mach 3 than any other human being. (And he's arguably the least cool of these guys. Whoa. And why doesn't he have a wikipedia page?)

Steve Ritchie. Retired USAF Brigadier General, and America's last fighter ace. Shot down 5 MiG-21s in Vietnam, including two in one day (within 2 minutes). In 2007, at the age of 65, he requalified on the F-104 Starfighter, which he still flies for fun and profit.

Jim Lovell. Yes, that Jim Lovell. No, he doesn't look much like Tom Hanks, but this is the guy who made the most famous understatement of all time, "OK, Houston, we've had a problem here."

Gene Cernan. Commander of Apollo 17, and the last man to walk on the moon. Who could possibly be cooler than that?

This guy. Neil Armstrong. You don't know how tempted I was NOT to hyperlink his name, because if you don't know who he is, shame on you.

Cheerleaders? Football players? Pfft. These guys are literally names from your kids' history books.

It was a real treat, part of a "Legends of Aerospace" tour. The moderator for the panel was David Hartman, former host of Good Morning America (and, incidentally, former USAF officer...) They started with a very cool intro to a darkened room: "Only 12 people have ever walked on the moon. Two of them are here with us this evening. Only three people have ever piloted a crippled spacecraft safely to earth. One of them... is here with us this evening." And so on... Then a multimedia presentation about the careers of each of them, followed by a panel discussion led by Hartman.

At one point Neil Armstrong was telling about fears that the lunar surface might not be solid enough to support the lunar module. He described how careful they were to be prepared to take off on a moment's notice, if need be, but as it turned out, the surface was firm and rocky.

"A lot like this place, actually!" said Cernan, causing the audience (and Armstrong) to break into laughter.

I got a bunch of pictures, but they're lots of "Lovell looks amused" or "Cernan seems interested" types of things. Cool, in their own way, but I'm not gonna post them all. I'm just really happy that I was able to go. This type of tour really is the stuff... the RIGHT stuff.