Sunday, August 26, 2012

WALKING ON THE MOON WITH LARISSA

The world sat on the edge of their seats in July of 1969.  They filled Times Square in New York City as the ticker scrolled around giving updates.  The trees and plants must have been starved for Carbon Dioxide as breaths were held all in unison for a few minutes.  Then the words came from the lunar surface finally, "Houston, Tranquility Base here, The Eagle has landed." And breathing resumed on the face of the Earth.

The United States had landed two men on the surface of the moon.  NASA had spent the last ten years working towards this one moment in time.  The newscasts were glued to NASA over the next several hours.  Finally the lunar landing module opened up the camera that was attached to one of the legs of the module.  The first picture from the Moon's surface appeared.  It was grainy black and white and hard to tell what was what without the newscasters pointing out the various features of the picture.

It was a few hours later when our attention was returned to the camera mounted on the Lunar Module.  We watched as slowly the figure of a man in a space suit made his way down ladder to one of the land feet that rested on the surface.  He was finally standing on the landing foot and the words came over the television. "Okay, I am going to step off the LEM now.  That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." and with those words Neil Armstrong firmly planted his foot onto the surface of the moon.  History had been made.

Soon Armstrong was joined by his fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin on the surface.  They were on the surface but a couple of hours and they had business to take care of.  The world watched as the men collected samples from the moon's surface.  They planted an American flag on the surface.  They read a plaque that was mounted onto the base of the landing vehicle.

While they were doing their chores, I looked out the front door.  It was a full moon and I walked over to the door and looked up at it.  I couldn't see them but right now Armstrong and Aldrin were walking around up there.  It was hard for me to wrap my head around.  Dad looked at me looking outside and asked me what I was doing,  "Nothing" I answered and went back to watch the astronauts answer a phone call from the President while they were still on the surface.

It was over too soon.  Before long the two men had returned inside the module and prepared to leave the surface of the moon.  They were able to launch from the surface and dock with the command module and head home to a heroes welcome.  This had been a night I would never forget, and still haven't.

I grabbed the newspaper the next morning and after reading everything there was to read about what had happened, I put the paper away with other important items that I kept as I was growing up.  The next weekend, the Kansas City Star put out a full special edition of the paper entitled, "TO THE MOON AND BACK"  I bought a couple of these and put one in the box with my other moon papers.

This special edition not only dealt with Apollo 11, but also gave the history leading up to the moon landing and gave predictions as to what the future held.  Among the "future" items was a space ship that would look kind of like a plane.  It would be launched into space and then return home as a glider plane where it could be used again to go up into space.  A reusable space module.  The sketches of the futuristic space plane would become a reality with the launching and development of the Space shuttles. At the age of twelve, those few historic hours had made an impact on my life that would never leave.  Science, engineering and doing the impossible would lead me into a career filled with much of the same.

Forward to early 1981.  I had been working for Dit-MCO International for two years.  We made cable testers and printed circuit board testing machines that was mostly for use in new military weapons and vehicles.  We also had a vast amount of equipment at NASA to help test out the Space Shuttle before it made it's maiden voyage.  It was exciting work and we felt like we were producing very important equipment for the country.

During this time, the company was growing at a very fast pace and we were hiring new engineering personnel on a consistent basis.  One of these new hires was a Russian immigrant named Larissa Vainstien.  She and her family had immigrated to the United States in order to work in the engineering field that was far more complicated then what they were use to in the Soviet Union.

Larissa knew almost nothing about the United States other then the history that she would need to get her citizenship.   We took it upon ourselves to teach her American culture.  We introduced her to some of the sports history of our country and to the basic rules of sports.  We taught her the basics of baseball so she could watch it and understand it a little bit.  More difficult was teaching her American football.  She eventually came to understand it enough to discuss a little of the games the Monday after they were played.  We taught her western music from Sinatra to the Beatles.  She was given recordings of different kinds of music and she decided she really liked the Beatles.  She had never heard the Beatles before.  She had never seen a baseball or football game before.  But there was much more she was not aware of.

One day, as the launch of the first Space Shuttle was coming upon us, we mentioned the moon walks to her.  She laughed at us when we told her we had been to the moon.  She thought we were joking around, pulling her leg.  She had never heard of such a thing.  We tried to talk to her about it, telling her when we had done it, told her that Shepard had played golf on the moon and that we had actually put a car on the moon and driven around, among other things and she just laughed.  No one had been to the moon.  There was no way in which we could convince her that the United States had sent several men to the moon.

We were stunned when it dawned on us that she was really serious.  She had no idea of any moon landings.  The Russian Government had apparently hidden the fact very well from their people, especially those in the engineering field.  She would not believe anything we said about the moon landings.

I went home one night and I dug out from my history box everything I had on the moon landings.  It is important to remember that even though the internet was being developed, it was not accessible to the average person so we could not just get on a computer and look it up and show her.  I brought in newspapers and records and pictures of the moon walk and showed them to Larissa.

At first, she thought the papers were just lies.  Maybe it was because she was use to that being the case coming from the Soviet Union.  We spent a lot of time with her going over the newspapers with her.  Slowly she began to think that maybe it was true.  She kept the papers for a few weeks and you could find her reading every word of the whole NASA program from the Mercury program, through the Gemini and Apollo missions.

One day she came in to work and told us that she and her husband had gone to the public library and had done research there just to confirm what we had been telling her.  She told us that they had come to the conclusion that perhaps it was possible that the United States had indeed been to the moon.  She never came out and said that she actually believed it, but admitted that it could be possible.  That was good enough for us.

Looking back on it, it still amazes me at how well the Soviet Union was able to control information back in those days.  The internet has changed all of that now though but back when Larissa was just learning about these historic things, it took a leap of faith on her part to acknowledge that something had happened that had never been mentioned to her in her entire life.

Larissa and her husband did become citizens of the United States while she was still working at Dit-MCO.  We all went up to the courthouse and witnessed her becoming a citizen of this great country.  We had taught her a lot while she was preparing to take that oath.  It wasn't the kind of stuff and facts that the Immigration Service taught her in preparing for citizenship, but I think what we taught her as far as the culture of western societies was just as important to go along with the required history taught her by the immigration service.

We all were very proud of Larissa when she took that oath.  We also thought that we had helped her understand her new country much better and so we gave ourselves a little pat on the back s well.  She soon quit working at Dit-MCO and moved to Florida.  Those times of teaching her about her new country was a very proud moment for us though.  We had taught her things she never would have known and gave her the Beatles as well.

What brought this memory to my mind to write about is hearing that Neil Armstrong had died.  Neil Armstrong was an American hero that we had introduced to Larissa.  So I guess this post is dedicated to the memory of Neil Armstrong and what he accomplished for this country.




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