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On July 20, 1969, this four-year-old kid from small-town Iowa knew something was up when his Dad came home from work early one morning to watch television.  In fact, with a quick glance down the neighborhood street, I would have noticed lots of cars parked in the driveway – with everyone inside staring at their black and whites.

“Because of what you have done, the Heavens have become a part of man.”

The flight of Apollo 11 served as a rebirth in the United States in many ways. And my four-year-old eyes watched not really knowing what I was seeing, but impressed that my Dad – who ran his own business and worked long arduous hours to keep it going – took time from his morning to watch TV. And we continued to watch for the next three days – whenever the networks fed us NASA’s grainy footage of the astronauts doing their business out in space. The first-ever landing on the Moon. Listening as Neil Armstrong voiced to the world his impressions as he stepped of the lunar module ladder onto the Moon’s surface. The Moon walks. The lift-off from the Moon and the splash landing.

It’s all very surreal, but there are images in my memory banks from 40 years ago and it’s something my kids read about without consideration to the sheer magnitude of what was happening. Six hundred million people on earth watched and read about those three days in the summer of ’69 and we’re still talking about it four decades later.

Without question, it was something else.

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The new head of the science division at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is an old friend of mine. We went to high school together. He and another guy egged me and a friend of mine after school one Autumn afternoon. Splat, egg whites and yolks ran down our backs and these two buffoons stood there laughing. I suppose we deserved it. We were less geeky than they were. This happened in junior high. We maintained our friendship for the ensuing five-plus years.

Kent G. Bress and I not only became friends in junior high, but we also remained close throughout high school and then found ourselves as college roommates for a year (1983 – ’84) at the University of Iowa. As a roommate, I saw Kent in some very, very interesting states of inebriation. I won’t go into details here because I prefer not to have a federally funded institution investigate me at this point in my life. I will say that Kent was the consummate student, wickedly intelligent – although there was a slight shortfall when it came to common sense (thus the egging).

The Bress family I knew back in my hometown was quite typical. Kent’s Dad owned a butcher shop where we spent many a Friday and Saturday night kicked back drinking Old English 800 malt liquor in the back room. Kent’s Mom, Evelyn, was a German instructor at the high school. Her class was a riot and while I sucked at speaking German, I learned a lot about people and relationships in Frau Bress’s classroom. Kent’s older brother lived a block north of my childhood home, on the corner of West Third Street and Fourth Avenue West. I think we drank beer there once or twice, too.

When I got an e-mail from our former high school band director (Kent played a mean French Horn as well and was a two or three-time All State Band member), I wasn’t shocked to discover Kent had been promoted within NASA to head up one of its Science divisions. I’m sure he’s surrounded by a group of super-intelligent people from all walks of life and they all go home each night wondering how Kent trumps them all in the knowledge department.

However, I can proudly say that he’s still a bigger geek than me.

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