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November/December 2012
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Editorial - November/December 2012
by Gordon Van Gelder

ON JUNE 5TH, America's poet of the Space Age, Ray Bradbury, passed away at the age of 91. Less than two months later, the first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, died at the age of 82.

For many members of my generation, the 1969 Moon landing is their first memory. (I missed it; my family spent that summer in a house without a television.) For my six-year-old daughter, when I told her about Neil Armstrong, it was shocking to learn that anyone had ever been to the Moon. Later in the evening, she pointed to the Moon and asked me if Neil Armstrong was there now. "He is in spirit," I said.

This summer also saw the rover Curiosity land on Mars, where it sent back wonderful video and used its laser to blast a small rock in order to study it. NASA has named the Curiosity landing site in honor of Ray Bradbury, giving us all a sense of how today's giants stand on the shoulders of yesterday's titans.

My father told me that the Apollo XI astronauts were feted in New York at the American Museum of Natural History, shortly after the big blue whale went up in the Hall of Ocean Life. At the ceremony, someone—I think it was New York's mayor, John Lindsay—quipped to the astronauts, "Now I know you're brave—you're the only ones willing to sit under that thing."

Lucius Shepard, on the other hand, wrote online a wonderful anecdote about the human side of one of these giants. With his permission, I bring it to you now:


I kinda met Neil Armstrong once back in the late '70s. My brother-in-law and I ran a T-shirt company and we had a couple of lines we sold to museum shops and at science fiction cons and like that. We were coming back from a sales trip, driving through rural Ohio, when we spotted a sign advertising the Neil Armstrong Museum in some little town. What the hell, we said. Maybe we can dump some shirts, so when we got to the museum we sat down with the curator, who was also the buyer for the gift shop, and pitched the shirts. We had a kids' shirt that resembled the body of a NASA space suit and the guy bought about 7, 8 dozen of those, along with shirts that had maps of the moon and Mars, the big red spot on Jupiter, etc. I don't recall how the subject came up, but I asked the curator if Neil ever came around the museum and the curator said, "Oh, sure. He's here all the time. I think he's here now." I asked if we could meet him and he said that Neil wasn't big on meeting new people and besides, he was probably sleeping. "He likes to sleep in the lander," he said. "He spends a lot of time in there."
"The moon lander?" I asked.
"It's a replica," the curator said. "It's up in the Moon Room, on the second floor. You can go on up if you'd like. Maybe you'll see him."
We went up to the second floor. There was a walkway that ran across the building, a bridge of sorts, then a gap that separated us from the Moon Room, which was a display of a life-sized lander sitting on some pumice-like material, and in the distance some painted crater walls, lunar mountains, and a black sky with stars. It probably looked fairly real when the lights were off, but the lights were on full and it looked pretty fake.
We hung out for around five minutes and then gave up on the idea of seeing Neil.
We went back downstairs, finished some paperwork and had a cup of coffee with the curator. I said I thought it struck me as weird, Neil Armstrong sleeping in the moon lander. The curator said maybe so, he'd never given it much thought.
Before we left we ran back up to the Moon Room to try and catch sight of Neil...and there he was. He was standing on the ladder leading up to the hatch. A guy with buzz-cut hair was all I could make out. We waved at him and after a second or two he waved back. I had a feeling he'd been on the verge of leaving the lander, but after that one wave he ascended the ladder and closed the hatch behind him.
That's all there is. Not much of an encounter. I used to think I'd write a story about seeing him, but it never came to anything. I liked thinking about Armstrong sleeping in the lander, though, the kind of dreams he had there and all. It made him seem a lot more real than that BS one small step for mankind quote that someone wrote for him. And it makes his death go down smoother to imagine him curled up in that cramped space on his padded couch, on his way to somewhere no one else has ever been.

Gordon Van Gelder

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