One ‘step’ took us far

Published 9:32 am Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Perhaps it’s only fitting that less than one week after the death of an outer space pioneer, a blue moon is on Friday night’s celestial agenda.

It was July 20, 1969 that Neil Armstrong uttered those now famous words – “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” – as he took that historic step from the “Eagle” (the aptly named lunar lander on the Apollo 11 mission) onto the surface of the moon. At that time the United States was engaged in two wars – one in Vietnam and the other with the Soviet Union to see which world power could conquer the unknowns of outer space. The U.S. needed some good news and Neil, along with Apollo astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, gave the old Red, White and Blue” an emotional shot in the arm.

I was between my sophomore and junior year in high school in July of 1969. I spent the evening of July 20 at the shop of Cole’s TV in Rich Square. The business was owned by the father of one of my high school classmates, Gary Cole. We, along with others, gathered in the tiny office and had numerous TV’s from which to watch history being made….all in living color. It was a night I’ll never forget.

The path of life that Armstrong followed after he rewrote the history book was one I didn’t follow. It wasn’t until performing online research to write this column where I learned that although he never flew in space again, Armstrong remained with NASA, serving as deputy associate administrator for aeronautics until 1971. He then joined the faculty of the University of Cincinnati as a professor of aerospace engineering, a position he held for eight years. He went on to serve as chairman of Computing Technologies for Aviation, Inc., from 1982 to 1992.

Earlier this month (just two days after celebrating his 82nd birthday on Aug. 5), Armstrong underwent surgery to bypass four blockages in his coronary arteries, according to news reports. While he was recovering nicely from the surgery, he suffered from coronary artery disease, an ailment that claimed his life this past Saturday.

To remember the impact Armstrong had on those of us alive in 1969, we need to look up in the heavens this coming Friday evening (Aug. 31). There we’ll witness the rising of the second full moon of this month. If you’re an astrological purist, Friday’s lunar spectacle will be simply a full moon.  If you side with the modern day definition, you’ll see a blue moon.

For the purists, those who follow the Old Farmers’ Almanac, a blue moon is the third full moon in a quarter of the year when there were four full moons (normally a quarter year has three full moons). Full moon names – early, mid and late – are given to each moon in a season. When a season has four full moons the third is a blue moon in order for the last one to still be known as the late full moon.

Using the Farmers’ Almanac definition of a blue moon, the next will occur Aug. 21, 2013. That’s because, technically, the months of July, August and September in 2012 contain four full moons, and August 2012 has two full moons. However, the period from the summer solstice to the autumn equinox in 2012 contains only three full moons, as the September 2012 full moon comes after the equinox (on Sept. 29, after the official start of autumn on Sept. 22). Thus the 2012 calendar year has 13 full moons, including two in August, yet it contains no blue moon.

On the other side of this debate are those that say no matter the season, the second full moon of any given month is referred to as a blue moon.

The idea of a blue moon as the second full moon in a month stemmed from the March 1946 issue of Sky and Telescope magazine, which contained an article called “Once in a Blue Moon” by James Hugh Pruett. He simplified the definition by writing, “Seven times in 19 years there were — and still are — 13 full moons in a year. This gives 11 months with one full moon each and one with two. This second in a month, so I interpret it, was called Blue Moon.”

No matter the definition it doesn’t change the course of history, and space exploration as we know it today, that Neil Armstrong defined 43 years ago.


Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7207.


About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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