Road Trip: The Neil Armstrong Air And Space Museum

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The Gemini 8 capsule floating in space.(Photo: Aileen LeBlanc)
The Gemini 8 capsule floating in space.(Photo: Aileen LeBlanc)

Ohio has flight in its veins.

The Wright brothers began experimenting with planes in Dayton, and the state claims 24 astronauts. Wapakoneta is the home of Neil Armstrong – the first man to step foot on the moon – and one of the most private people on earth.

The museum here on Apollo lane is shaped like a moon.

Maria Vega is the education specialist for the Armstrong Air and Space Museum.

“He was a scout growing up, and here are his scouting things and his old rocketry books are here,” Vega says as she points at exhibits.

His personal belongings donated by himself and his family. It kind of gives us a local connection to the space race.

How does a farm boy in Ohio get interested in space?

“His father took him on a flight when he was six and he was bitten by the flight bug,” Vega says.

Armstrong’s father worked for the Ohio government and had to move the family around – a lot – when he was young. But they retuned to Wapakoneta in 1944 and Neil went to Blume High School here.

He also went out to the county airport on his bike.

“Growing up,” Vegas says, pointing at exhibits again, “this was his plane that he learned to fly on and flew as a young man.

“Neil Armstrong got his drivers license after his pilot’s license.”

He could fly a plane before he could legally drive a car.

He was 15 years old at that time, and within five years he was a test pilot, and soon, an astronaut.

Gemini Spacecraft at the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum

It is hard to imagine life in the Gemini 8 capsule, which is not much larger than the two men who sat side by side in it.

“And you don’t’ really move, there’s no place to stretch out, there’s no restroom,” Vega says.

If you take a turn after the space food exhibit (tang free) you’ll come on an Apollo 11 spacesuit – Armstrong’s backup suit for the moon mission.

 Lincoln Park, a former housing project on the far south side of Columbus.

There are conflicting stories as to why Neil Armstrong was selected to be the first man to set foot on the moon.

He was closest to the door. He was commander of the mission. He also did not have a big ego (a fact that has certainly now been proven over forty-five years later.) So the test pilot from Wapakoneta Ohio made history on July 20th 1969.

 Lincoln Park, a former housing project on the far south side of Columbus.

Later Armstrong would say that his intended first words on the moon were: “One small step for A man…” further showing that he was no show-off.

“Our moon rock is over 4 billion years old and it came from the sea of tranquility,” Vega says. “I always tell people this is probably the oldest thing you’re ever going to see in your entire life.”

Before you leave the Armstrong Air and Space Museum, walk through the infinity room. It has stars all around and gives you an idea of what it is like in space. It’s pretty cool.

You can take the tour of the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum yourself. Just visit and click on The New Ohio Guide. It’s Tour number one.

The New Ohio Guide is produced by the Ohio Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.