Farewell, Neil Armstrong

August 27th, 2012

When I met Neil Armstrong, my sketchbook seemed to make him nervous. I knew that he didn’t care to give interviews and although I had no intention of asking anything, I couldn’t help but go up to him, just to shake his hand. He was, after all, one of my heroes. But I, too, was nervous, stumbling over my words. Worse, I was excitedly waving around my hands and trying to explain who I was, and what had brought me to the Saturn V complex at the Kennedy Space Center. He kept eyeing my sketchbook with suspicion, however, and before I could reassure him that I wasn’t a reporter, the moment was lost…

In the spring of 2010, my family and I had come to the Kennedy Space Center for the launch of space shuttle Discovery. We were guests of astronaut Clay Anderson—mission specialist for Discovery—who had also asked to take on his flight two of my original drawings. The hardcover of my memoir, Inklings, had just come out, but because space travel—and Snoopy—play a role in the book, I was able to write an epilogue for the paperback edition that included this:

Even an actual Saturn V rocket, suspended overhead horizontally and as tall as a building, seems to defy logic. Something catches my eye: a display of famous newspaper front pages from July 1969, the headlines proclaiming that man had landed upon the moon. Although the newspapers come from all over the globe, one front page in particular leaps out at me, that of the Omaha World-Herald.

I’m marveling at this familiar image when Josh grabs my attention. Behind me, in the shadow of the mammoth rocket is a statue of astronaut Snoopy, as tall as a boy. Moments later we realize that just a few steps from Snoopy stands Neil Armstrong, the man. I shake his hand and attempt to explain why I am here. He smiles politely but I know that there is probably nothing any mere human can say to this hero that will impress him. I glance to the newspaper display, to the World-Herald’s front page with Armstrong’s image. I want to point it out to him, but he is overtaken by other fans and soon we are back outside, at the bleachers in the viewing area, in the darkness that buzzes with anticipation.

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Front page on display in the Omaha World-Herald lobby, and at the Kennedy Space Center

As a kid, Neil Armstrong inspired me to dream big. And when he passed away, he again inspired me as a cartoonist…

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