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Neil Armstrong Comes Home

Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers

About 10,000 people live in Wapakoneta, Ohio — half that in the 1960s. In 1969, the town wanted to honor the most famous Wapakonetan (so far), the first man to step on the moon, Neil Armstrong. So they had a parade. Here's the front page of the paper that day.

50,000 people showed up. Neil came, smiled, then went. He would eventually leave NASA, become an engineering professor and talk, not so much about the moon, but more about physics. In his heart, he was less an explorer and more a teacher. "I am, and will ever be," he said in 2000, "a white-socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer, born under the second law of thermodynamics, steeped in steam tables, in love with free-body diagrams, transformed by Laplace and propelled by compressible flow."

Laplace, he would want you to know, was a French mathematician from George Washington's time who described the stability of our solar system; how, if you want to fly to the moon, you can, with a pencil and paper, figure out exactly where the moon will be. NASA did the scribbling. Neil and Buzz Aldrin did the traveling. Wapakoneta did the parade.

Neil was the kind of guy who said "thanks" a lot. Somewhere the 18th century, mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace is saying "you're welcome."

Thanks to writer Steve Silberman for sending this front page along. Neil Armstrong once wrote this blog to say he thought the Moon needs more visits from more explorers. He couldn't understand why some people feel the Moon's "been done." I'd been joking that he didn't do a whole lot of exploring when he was up there. I even mapped his movements, saying he hadn't ventured much farther than baseball players who run to center field. In his note, he explained why he stayed close to the LEM, his little spaceship.

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Robert Krulwich works on radio, podcasts, video, the blogosphere. He has been called "the most inventive network reporter in television" by TV Guide.