Saturday, July 17, 1999

Armstrong hopes man will return to moon


But going back, he says, 'will take public will'

BY TIM BONFIELD
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[armstrong]
Neil Armstrong gives a thumbs up, as Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin listens during a gathering at Kennedy Space Center.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, said Friday he believes there are “compelling reasons” for going back.

        But getting there is up to society, not him.

        The space hero who changed history on July 20, 1969, but has avoided the spotlight ever since made a rare public appearance as part of the 30th anniversary celebration of the Apollo 11 mission.

        Wearing a tan suit and a yellow tie instead of a white space suit and tinted visor, Mr. Armstrong spent about 40 minutes with three fellow astronauts fielding questions from the media. Topics ranged from how he felt about his accomplishments to the future of space exploration. He even managed to fire off a few one-liners.

"ONE SMALL STEP FOR (A) MAN
  Thirty years ago today, the Apollo 11 crew of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin A. “Buzz” Aldrin (pictured at right) were streaking toward the moon where, on July 20, 1969, Mr. Armstrong left his mark: a giant bootprint in the finely powdered soil.
  “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” he said at the time.
  On Friday, Mr. Armstrong revealed that he had intended to say, “... for A man,” but the “a” was lost in transmission.
  “I'd be happy if you'd just put it in parentheses,” he said.
        “In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet,” Mr. Armstrong said.

        While his words were often more reserved than his fellow astronauts, he shared their disappointment that mankind hasn't left earth's orbit since Apollo 17 returned in 1972.

        “I think all of us would like to see more things going on,” he said. “There are compelling reasons for society to go back to the moon. (But) that case will not be made by me. (Going back to the moon or to Mars) will take public will. If that's there, technology will pick up its part of it.”

        On July 16, 1969, Mr. Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins blasted off in a towering Saturn V rocket on a four-day journey to the moon. Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Aldrin became the first of only 12 men to set foot on another planet. Combined, they spent about 52 hours on the surface and brought back more than 852 pounds of moon rocks.

        Mr. Armstrong said the nerve-wracking final descent to the dusty lunar surface was the “most satisfying event” of the mission. His famous words were almost an afterthought.

        “I didn't think about it until after landing ... I realized I would have to say something.”

        He intended to say: “That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” But the “a” cannot be heard on tapes of the live broadcast.

        “I'd be happy if you'd just put it in parentheses,” he said.

        As for the next giant leap for mankind, many other former astronauts and space enthusiasts push hard for a manned mission to Mars.

        Mr. Armstrong, however, mentioned current NASA projects, including the international space station and the Chandra X-Ray Observatory, the world's most powerful X-Ray telescope slated to be launched Tuesday.

        He said he personally would like to see a mission to Mars, but emphasized he was not making a statement on what NASA policy should be. Over the years, Mr. Armstrong has disappointed the press and has been criticized by other astronauts for not speaking out more often about the space program.

        “I shared my thoughts a great deal over the past 30 years in many forms,” he said.

        Mr. Armstrong said his fame is really the result of hundreds of thousands of NASA workers and the less glorious but vital flights that went before Apollo 11.

        “The flights beyond Apollo 11 were more scientifically rewarding,” he said.

        Mr. Armstrong, who lives in Indian Hill and owns a farm near Lebanon, revealed his down-to-earth side when asked if he regretted not spending more time thinking about his cosmic experience.

        He said while on the moon he didn't think about the big picture because he was “totally immersed in the project.” Since then, unlike some other astronauts, Mr. Armstrong said, he does not think about the moon every day.

        However, when asked if he would trade his place in history for more privacy, his answer was: “Never.”

        Less than a year after John Glenn's historic return to orbit as the oldest man in space, Mr. Armstrong, 68, said he would like to go back to the moon if NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin would let him.

        “We left a few things up there,” Mr. Armstrong said. “But he'll probably say you'll have to be 80 to go.”

Astronauts bask in glories past
Special Apollo 11 Anniversary celebration from Associated Press



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