Fifty years ago this summer the course of history was changed forever. On July 20th, 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first person to set foot on the moon. This pivotal moment came after decades of preparation and planning and was a true feat of science and engineering – a remarkable achievement. The whole world watched on as the moment was punctuated by Armstrong’s famous words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”.
It was an iconic moment that, in a way, all started in Ohio. Before the race to the moon, spacesuits and zero gravity, Neil Armstrong was born in the small town of Wapakoneta in Northeast Ohio on August 5, 1930. Due to his father’s job as an auditor for the State of Ohio, the family moved often during Neil’s childhood and he also called the Ohio communities of Warren, Jefferson, St. Marys and Upper Sandusky his home. By the 1940s the family had returned to Wapakoneta, where Armstrong attended high school and developed a passion for flying. At the age of 16t he earned his pilot’s license in advance even of being issued a driver’s license, practicing flight in the grassy airfields surrounding Wapakoneta. After high school, he went on to college at Purdue University and later joined the navy.
After graduation and his service, Armstrong began his career in NASA at the Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland. From there he held numerous other jobs and responsibilities at NASA, often acting as a test pilot, before eventually being selected for astronaut training in 1962. He served as a backup pilot on Gemini missions 5 and 11 and went to space for the first time as command pilot on Gemini 8. In 1968, Armstrong was offered the post of commander on Apollo 11, along with Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin and Commander Module Pilot Michael Collins. Less than a year later they would be the first humans to successfully land on the moon.
With his accomplishments, Armstrong joined the leagues of other notable Ohioans involved in advancements in flight and space exploration. Col. John Glen, Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker and Orville and Wilbur Wright are just a few air and space pioneers that Ohio claims.
In the days and weeks surrounding the Apollo 11 launch and first moonwalk, it seems natural that Ohioans across the state took a special interest in the event. This is apparent in the publications from the time such as The Columbus Dispatch and The Cincinnati Enquirer. Many newspaper articles and clippings pertaining to the event can be found in Ohioana’s collection. Articles covered all aspects of the moon mission from the astronaut’s daily routines while in space, to reports of how Armstrong’s hometown of Wapakoneta was preparing for the momentous occasion.
There was no one prouder of Neil Armstrong that day than the family, friends and residents back in his hometown of Wapakoneta – or Wapak, as it’s known in the region. Mrs. Grover Crites, wife of Armstrong’s high school math and science teacher, was quoted saying, “There won’t be a dark house in the town of Wapak the night Neil walks on the moon.” Days before the moon mission, The Columbus Dispatch reported that “All 7,000 residents of Wapak … are excited, proud and concerned”. Two years later, in 1971, a museum dedicated to Neil Armstrong was opened in the town thanks to the help of members of the community and Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes. You can visit the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta today to see artifacts from Armstrong’s Apollo 11 and Gemini 8 missions. The museum, as well as the entire town of Wapakoneta, is holding celebrations of the moon landing anniversary all year. For more information visit: https://www.firstonthemoon.org/.
All images courtesy of Ohioana’s collection.