Moon Shot T+45 Years

45 years ago today the human race set foot on another object in Solar System...human space exploration had begun. In the afternoon of 1969 at 3:17 pm eastern Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the surface of the moon. The 1st step on the lunar surface was about 6 hours later at 9:56 pm eastern. I wouldn't even be born for several more years, but this single event ended up having a rather profound impact on my life. I grew up dreaming of space. My grandma's next door neighbor was a professional astronomer so I got to peer through his enormous telescopes anytime he was out viewing from his driveway. My interest in space continued into high school where I was encouraged by my science teacher to enter not one but two space design contests. It was the 2nd contest, a team contest, that brought me and my team to Washington D.C in the summer of 1994. 20 years ago I was at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum for the 25th anniversary of Apollo 11. To commemorate the event the Air and Space museum held a 1st day of issue ceremony for the new US Postal Service stamps (a 29 cent stamp and a $9.95 express mail stamp). After the ceremony the artists behind the design of the stamps were available to sign the the stamps (which were available for sale and stamped as "1st day of issue cancellation" by the Post Office). So I bought the poster of the iconic picture of Buzz Aldrin standing on the surface of the Moon, attached several stamps to the poster, had them 1st Day of Issue stamped right there on the poster and had the stamp designers sign the poster right under the stamps. I have this poster proudly displayed in my home. For me, this is a personal link to one of the most important events in human history and I wouldn't trade it for anything. Below is a photo gallery of the framed poster that hangs in our living room as well as some of the stamps and other collectibles that I picked up from Air and Space that day.

I didn't know it know then, but later down the road I would make yet another connection with this historic event. Fast forward about 10 years. I was now working for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As a side job for fun I was also working as a flight coach for a company called Zero Gravity. My job with Zero Gravity was to fly in a Boeing 727 aircraft and go "weightless". The aircraft would fly a parabolic flight path such that when the aircraft was at the top of the parabola the passengers would experienced about 30 seconds of reduced gravity. We would all get to experience various levels of reduced gravity...lunar gravity, Mars gravity and finally zero gravity or "weightlessness" as many people call it. My job was to ensure that the passengers remained safe and had a great time during those very short but exhilarating seconds that we were free from the shakles of Earth's gravity. It really is an amazing experience. Not to long after I started doing these flights for the company I had the honor of working on a flight that included Buzz Aldrin! Buzz was flying with us as part of a special promotion...get to experience lunar gravity with someone who has actually walked on the Moon. So this was quite an experience for everyone flying that day...including Buzz. You see, this was going to be the 1st time since Buzz stepped off the surface of the Moon in 1969 that he had experienced lunar gravity. Not only did I get the once in a lifetime chance to experience lunar gravity with someone who has actually been there, but Buzz was assigned to my group on the flight. This put me in a rather interesting situation. Part of my job was to talk to my group before and during the flight and explain what they were about to experience. I have to say it was a little intimidating having to explain to my group what to expect when we enter the parabola for lunar gravity when one of the people in my group has actually walked on the Moon! After the flight my best friend joked with me and asked what I was going to do next...teach Tiger Woods how to play golf?

Me with Buzz Aldrin after our Zero-G flight

I'm now 15-years into my engineering career with NASA and I still have my sights set on the stars. I'm lucky enough to be part of a team that routinely launches spacecraft into space. I got to work on the Pluto New Horizons mission (which will flyby Pluto this time next summer), I also worked on the Mars Curiosity Rover mission for over 5 years and it is just half way into its mission on the surface of Mars. Last November I helped launch the MAVEN mission, which is a Mars orbiter that will enter into orbit around Mars this September. Most recently I helped launch the OCO-2 mission into orbit around the Earth to help understand the carbon cycle on the Earth. But despite all of these amazing mission I have been lucky enough to be apart of I am still aiming for the next "moon shot" for humanity. My goal is to be involved with the 1st human mission to Mars when it happens. I'm not getting any younger and we are still quite a few years away from such a mission, but I still believe that we will have humans on the surface of Mars within my lifetime and I intend to be involved. Thinking back to all those years ago looking up at the stars through my grandma's neighbor's telescope if someone would have told me that I would be doing what I am doing today I wouldn't have believed them. Maybe my future goal isn't so lofty after all...

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