In 1973, astronaut Neil Armstrong was a lecturer in an astronomy cruise to witness a total lunar eclipse in West Africa.
Armstrong, who became the first man to set foot on land beyond Earth 50 years ago today, was a deeply private person. But he agreed to join the cruise because Ted Pedas asked him to.
Pedas, a 1956 graduate of Farrell High School, was a renowned astronomer who worked at the Michigan State University planetarium and later director of the Youngstown State University planetarium. He also led astronomy cruises, which is how he crossed paths with Armstrong, first human to step onto the lunar surface and one of the world’s most famous men.
He was, however, uncomfortable with that fame, Pedas said.
Armstrong requested that his name not be used to promote the cruise, which already had some star power in the form of famous science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.
As the ship returned to the United States, the ship responded to an emergency radio call. A crew member on a nearby cargo ship had suffered a severe heart attack. The cruise ship raced to the cargo ship and took the ailing crewman aboard.
The crewman was taken to hospital facilities on a lower deck. Because of his health crisis, he was allowed to bypass the regular customs line that everyone else on the ship had to face.
There was another obstacle — a large crowd of reporters and fans who had learned Armstrong was on the ship. When Armstrong learned of the gaggle of people to see him, he asked Pedas for a favor.
“He told me he didn’t want to be interviewed and wanted to keep things private,’’ Pedas said. “He asked me to contact the customs people to see if he could disembark the same way.’’
Pedas called customs. Initially, the answer was no.
But Pedas didn’t give up. He called a senior customs official about Armstrong’s request. The official said yes – but there was a price.
“The official said he would let Neil through if he would pose for photos and sign autographs with him at the rest of his staff,’’ Pedas said. “He quickly agreed.’’
Pedas estimated that Armstrong, who died in 2012, was bombarded with personal-appearance requests and accepted very few of them.
“He didn’t cash in on his fame,’’ Pedas said. “He probably rejected 95 percent of the offers made to him.’’
Pedas said he got to know Armstrong during that 1973 cruise, which lasted 30 days.
“I was always proud this was one of the first and few commercial adventure he agreed to take on.’’
Pedas, who continued to work with Armstrong on other cruises, confirmed that the most famous quote attributed to the astronaut — one of the most famous quotes of all time — was incorrect.
When Armstrong set foot on the Moon, he said “That’s one small step for a man. One giant leap for mankind,” he told Pedas
But when the quote was transcribed into NASA’s records, and disseminated throughout the world, it became “That’s one small step for Man. One giant leap for mankind.”
“He told me he said ‘a man,’ ‘‘ Pedas said. But he didn’t want to make an issue out of it.’’
When Armstrong descended the ladder of NASA’s lunar module onto the Moon, Pedas, along with the rest of the world, was watching on television. At the time, he was at Michigan State.
“You didn’t have the big TV screens like you have today and the images were a little blurry,’’ Pedas said.
Still, the event was breathtaking.
“I just could not believe I was living at a time where this actually happened,’’ Pedas said. “It was incredible, it was beyond description.’’
Landing on the moon gave the country a boost, he said.
“I think the whole country, at least for a short time, held its collective breath,’’ Pedas said. “No matter how you felt about the space program, you had pride that this was your country.’’
The Farrell native had a direct connection with NASA. In 1983 he was selected by the agency to write and co-produce a planetarium show documenting America’s first quarter century in space in honor of NASA’s 25th anniversary.
Today, he is still dedicated to studying the cosmos, and helping others study it — he created the planetarium on the Farrell school campus, and raises funds to maintain it. Man, he said, still has much to learn about the cosmos.
“Going to the moon is a victory of escaping the bounds of earth,’’ he said. “It isn’t the moon so much, but it’s what we learned along the way.’’