Traditionally, blue Moons have been regarded as either an impossibility or a rarity. In the 16th century, the Bishop of Chichester, William Barlow, wrote sarcastically that If they saye the mone is belewe / We must believe that is true, but over the centuries it came to be recognised that the notion of a blue Moon was not as ludicrous as declaring that our closest celestial neighbour is composed of green cheese. In fact, a blue Moon – properly defined as the rising of a fourth full Moon in a season which normally only has three – has long been known to happen every two or three years, providing a long-held addition to English phraseology. As the people of Planet Earth paid tribute the first man to set foot on the Moon last week, it was entirely fitting that Neil Armstrong’s memorial ceremony on Friday should have coincided with the first blue Moon since 2009.
The ceremony, which took place at the Camargo Club in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the late astronaut’s home state and the very city in which he passed away on 25 August, was described by NASA as “private” and was attended by only selected guests. These included Armstrong’s family – including his sons, Rick and Mark, and one of his ten grandchildren, Piper Van Wagenen, who eulogised him – and veteran astronauts Bill Anders, Dick Gordon, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan. The first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, was also present, accompanied by his wife, Annie, as were Armstrong’s Apollo 11 crewmates Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin. The ceremony closed with F/A-18 Hornet jets flying a ‘missing man’ formation to honour Armstrong’s time as naval aviator in Korea.
“Today, we pay tribute to a pioneering American; an explorer, a patriot and an individual, who, with one small step, achieved an impossible dream,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden in a statement. “Family, friends and colleagues of Neil’s gathered to reflect on his extraordinary life and career and offer thanks for the many blessings he shared with us along the way. A grateful nation offers praise and salutes a humble servant who answered the call and dared to dream.”
Other tributes were held at the US Space & Rocket Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where a swarm of red, white and blue balloons were set free in a ceremony around the Saturn V rocket display. Astronauts Owen Garriott, Jan Davis and Fred Leslie were in attendance. Meanwhile, at the Kennedy Space Center’s own Saturn V exhibit in the Apollo/Saturn V Center, Director Bob Cabana led additional moments of reflection and remembrance for a man the like of whom will never be seen again. Appropriately, President Barack Obama ordered that Old Glory will be lowered to half-mast on all US installations worldwide – from the White House to NASA institutions and from military bases to embassies – on the day of Armstrong’s interment.
The exact date of that event has yet to be finalised, although 12 September has been provisionally settled upon for a national remembrance service in Washington, DC.