Neil Armstrong This morning I read a list of influential and prominent people who died the past year.  Many I do not recall such as the former king of Cambodia.  Others with familiar names do not matter to me.  These are people either famous for being famous or merely unworthy of recognition.

So, who on that list does cause me to pause and remember?  At the top of my list is Neil Armstrong.  Many summer days found a much, much younger me on my back in a local park smelling the grass and gazing at the sky waiting for sight of anything flying higher than local birds.  Back then, summer clouds were magical, big, puffy, and floating by so slowly.

I was an urban youth and did not know anyone who had ever been on a plane.  I longed to fly.  At night, we stared at the stars, not knowing that many we saw were no longer bright.  It was only their memory coming to us across space light years away.  Space to me was TV’’s Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.  I thought that show was cheezy.  I remember Buster Crabbe’s movie Flash Gordon as no better.

Years later I was traveling across Montana on business with my wife of a couple of months and we checked into a small motel, getting the ‘bridal suite’ because that room had the only remaining working TV.  We sat on the edge of a heart-shaped bed and watched Walter Cronkite guide us through the LEM’s landing, seeing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin actually walk on the moon’s surface.

Years later, I met Dr. Aldrin.  I have shared his company many times.  Buzz and I have never talked about the moon.  I know other astronauts with whom I speak of their space experiences.  When I have a chance to talk to Aldrin, I ask about his next adventure, not the 1969 moon landing.  When near him, speaking one-on-one or seated across the room, in my mind we are walking together across the lunar surface.

My dream, at this advanced age, is still to travel in space.  I learned to free myself from earth flying private aircraft and flight still amazes me every time I go up.  Over the years, I have built and launched hobbyist rockets, teaching my sons and grandchildren the thrill of the whoosh when our solid fuel ignites sending frail tubes aloft.

People I hold dear include the folks at Microcosm; a Hawthorne, CA based engineering firm where next generation rocket engines are developed.  I am proud to know Lt. Gen (ret) Gene Tattini, Deputy Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.  We first met when General Tattini commanded the Space and Missile Systems Center at the Los Angeles Air Force Base.

It is a blessing to know hundreds and hundreds of engineers, scientists, and program managers at The Aerospace Corporation, Lockheed, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and their suppliers.  People all doing magical things with metal, ceramics, silicon and computer code, developing space platform technology making possible the world as we know it.  Think of them every time you make a cell phone call or text a friend.

No, I am not a scientist, nor an engineer.  I just know what excites and astounds me and enjoy listening to those who really know what they are doing.  Especially when what they are doing is in deep space.  Thank you, Neil Armstrong and all the men and women who have made my childhood fantasies reality.

My hope today as we enter a new year is for us to learn how to educate the next generation of people worthy of recognition during their lifetime and after.  With all the man-made problems confronting our nation, education is one easily solved without pain.  It only takes those creating the problem getting out-of-the-way.

[Note: Among other interests, Joe Aro is volunteer President/CEO, South Bay Science Foundation, Inc., www.southbayscience.com

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