Neil Armstrong inspired a generation of space, science fans

When Miami Valley native Neil Armstrong walked on the moon on July 20, 1969, it inspired an entire generation.

Mark Brown of Beavercreek was one of the countless people who remembers watching the fuzzy black and white images on TV that night.

>> How Ohioan Neil Armstrong inspired the world through moon landing

He had just graduated from high school in Valaparaiso, Indiana, and was preparing to attend Purdue University to get a degree in engineering. He was well aware at the time Armstrong had graduated from Purdue with an engineering degree.

Ever since Armstrong's "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" moment, Brown was hooked.

The following year Brown saw Armstrong speak at Purdue and it made him think. "My goal shifted a little bit from simply wanting to be a military pilot to maybe being an astronaut," Brown said. "Maybe that is an achievable goal."

Years later, Brown entered the space program and flew on two shuttle missions for NASA.

Looking back on Armstrong's Apollo 11 mission, now 50 years later, Brown said he still is amazed by it.

>> Wright-Patt helped Armstrong, Apollo 11 crew reach the moon 50 years ago

"It was totally awe inspiring. A lot of people who weren't alive at that time don't remember what a big deal the space program was at the time," he said.

Cheri Adams of Oakwood was another member of that generation inspired by Armstrong's moon walk.

She was a high school student in 1969 and already leaning toward a math-oriented career.

After seeing the moonwalk, Adams said, "That, to me, was what really cinched the deal of me continuing with science."

She went on to college and became the astronomy director of the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in Dayton.

>> Armstrong went to the moon, but kept roots planted in Ohio

Now retired from her career at the museum, she still remembers how the world watched as the Apollo 11 drama unfolded, from launch to moon walk to return home.

"Not only did it connect people of the country, it connected people of the world," Adams said.

Armstrong wasn't the only Apollo 11 astronaut with ties to the Miami Valley. Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, is a graduate of the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

AFIT's Chancellor and Director, Maj. Gen. (RET) Todd Stewart said Aldrin is among 30 astronauts who received their graduate degrees there.

"To have our own, if you will, to be part of the team is a point of pride for us for sure," Stewart said.

>> PHOTOS: Apollo 11 moon landing 50 years later

Will the U.S. return to the moon? NASA has a plan to make it happen and Stewart believes it will happen.

"If this nation sets its sites on getting something done and is willing to organize and commit to it, it can achieve a lot of great things," he said.

One NASA scenario is to use the moon as a launchpad for a mission to Mars. Brown said that too is possible, although he thinks the U.S. may not go it alone.

"If you're going to do that it needs to be an international effort, where you share facilities, you share costs, you share people and you make it a group effort," he said.

>> WHIO Radio hosts moon landing anniversary show

Brown will be a part of festivities at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Riverside on Saturday to celebrate the 50th anniversary Armstrong's moon walk. Other museums in the area, including the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta and the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery have special events planned as well.

About the Author