Neil Armstrong

Neil


Neil Armstrong, the quietest celebrity in modern memory, died last weekend at 82. He was a household name, but a very private man, I knew him through books about the space program, especially “Carrying the Fire,” the wonderful autobiographical / historical book written by Apollo 13 crew member Michael Collins.

 

 

You can tell in photos how guarded Armstrong was; even when smiling, there’s a sort of veil over his eyes.  In my favorite photo (at the head of this article), taken by one of his Apollo 11 crewmates, Armstrong actually looks exhilarated, and open, and exhausted, and happy.

 

 

I’d ask if you remember that evening in July 1969 when Armstrong first stepped onto the moon’s surface, but I remind myself that many of you are too young for that; it would be like you asking me if I remembered when the Confederates started firing on Fort Sumter.

 

 

But I remember it. We’d just come home from a day trip to my Grandma Boitano’s house. I was twelve years old. I remember sitting in our living room in the twilight, watching the spectacle on television – a man on the moon! – and then getting up to look out the picture window at the moon (which I remember as being maybe six days old, a little less than first quarter). I remember thinking: There are human beings up there right now.

 

 

And I got a little shiver.

 

 

Memory is tricky. I go online now, and check myself. What was the phase of the moon on July 20, 1969?

 


Six days after new.

 

 

I actually remembered my childhood accurately.

 

 

Woo-hoo!

 

 

Armstrong’s family has asked that, “next time you see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

 

 

I think that’s lovely.

 

 

And we have to keep the moon in its place, after all, as the following clip (featuring Tina Fey and Buzz Aldrin) demonstrates:

 

 

 

 

Rest in peace, Neil.


 

Sally Ride, gay marriage, the Muppets, and Chick-fil-A


I was saddened when I read that Sally Ride, first American woman in space, passed away a few days ago. She was a role model, certainly; back in 1983, science and engineering were still distinctly woman-unfriendly disciplines. (The Russians had Valentina Tereshkova all those decades ago, but never really closed the gender gap.)

 

 

Astronauts were never really my heroes. They were too bland. When I was a kid in the 1960s, I used to be irritated when all those Gemini missions kept preempting my favorite programs. And then – these guys went into space, and came back, and never had anything interesting to say!

 

 

Then, the other day, I learned that Sally was in a relationship with a woman, Tam O’Shaughnessy, for the last 27 years of her life.

 

 

Now I’m interested.

 

 

The astronaut business was intensely macho. The original astronauts – Mercury, Gemini, Apollo – were mostly test pilots and Air Force hotshots, and most of them were insufferable boors. (My favorite reference text on this subject is Michael Collins’s lovely book “Carrying the Fire,” about his own time as an astronaut. He was the guy who circled the moon back in 1969 while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were traipsing around in the Sea of Tranquility.  He describes the psychological tests, and the physical training, and the sometimes-not-very-friendly sparring between the astronauts.)

 

 

 

Now: imagine being Sally Ride, competing in that macho environment.

 

 

I would have wilted in five seconds under that pressure. In the words of Tony Kushner, daisies would have sprouted out of my ears.

 

 

But Sally made it. She even married (for a few years in the 1980s) one of the other astronauts, Steve Hawley, who seems nice enough.

 

 

But she ended up with Tam O’Shaughnessy, who lived with her for over two decades, and worked with her, and co-authored several books with her, and was with her through her final illness

 

.

Bravo to her.

 

 

And what does Tam get?

 

 

Why, nothing! No death benefits. The U. S. Gummint don’t recognize non-traditional relationships.

 

 

(Mitt Romney recently posted a fatuous/obvious comment on Twitter about Sally being a “pioneer.” Here’s how that went:)

 

 

Tweet

 

Which brings me to Chick-fil-A.

 

 

We don’t have this particular chain in Rhode Island, thank goodness. I say “thank goodness” because Dan Cathy, the company’s CEO, recently made a large donation to an anti-gay-marriage cause, and made some nasty comments to accompany his contribution.

 

 

The Jim Henson Company, which made toys for Chick-fil-A’s kids’ meals, broke with them over this. They made a wonderful statement about it, and they gave the money they’d earned from Chick-fil-A to GLAAD, a gay organization.

 

 

Tee hee!

 

 

And here’s a pictorial version of the victory:

 

 

531711_498718156824309_1440480707_n

 

 

All of this means we still have a very long way to go.

 

 

But there’s light on the horizon.

 

 

Maybe.

 

 

(Rest in peace, Sally. Tam: best wishes, and stay strong. Lisa Henson: you go, girl. Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A: go to hell, rapidly, now.)


 

%d bloggers like this: