Moon footprints on campus lawn.

Moonprints of Neil Armstrong

Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on the moon, but he has shunned publicity ever since. Destined for Elvis-caliber celebrity-hood, he instead has left a relatively tiny footprint on the vacation landscape. There are plenty of science museum recreations of the 1969 landing, space-suited figures in gold mirror face plates, even some cheesy pose-with-a-spaceman wax museum scenes. But the closest you could get to the aura of the world's most famous spaceman was to see his "moon machete," or the spot where he first flew in a plane at age six. Less bashful moonwalker #2, Buzz Aldrin, has grabbed most of the media spotlight.

Now a third Neil Armstrong attraction has arrived, and it addresses the tiny footprint problem, kind of.

On October 26, 2007, Armstrong's alma mater, Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, unveiled a statue of Armstrong. He's not wearing his moon suit, but is instead depicted as a clean-cut 1950s engineering student, wearing cuffed khakis and penny loafers, his slide rule by his side. This is Nerd Neil, and he doesn't look ANYTHING like a space hero -- which is probably just the way that he likes it. But sculptor Chas Fagan added a twist to his work: moon footprints, cast from a real moon boot. The footprints, made of stone, lead away from the statue in the grass next to the sidewalk.

Neil Armstrong statue.

Fagan told us that the prints, set kind of far apart, are "meant to evoke what you could do on the moon." Visitors that try to walk in them will have to make the same kind of jumps that astronauts did in the moon's weak gravity. The prints aren't at moon stride -- "We wanted people to be able to make them," said Fagan -- but they are scaled up to the size of the larger-than-life statue, which means that people will still have to perform some gymnastics. And in the middle of the 20-track procession, Fagan placed a crater-wide gap of grass that people will have to leap to finish the moon walk.

We asked Fagan if he thought that people would be able to make it, and land in the two moonprints on the other side. "I don't think so," he answered. "But I hope that they try."

And as for Armstrong, Fagan told us that Mr. Moody Moon approved of the prints -- so the guy has a sense of humor after all.

[10/28/2007]

Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering

Address:
Northwestern Ave., West Lafayette, IN
Directions:
I-65 exit 178. South on Hwy 43 for about four miles into West Lafayette, then turn onto US 231 toward Purdue University. US 231 turns into Northwestern Ave. The moonprints are on the southwest corner of Northwestern and Stadium Aves., in front of the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering.
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