One Giant Step

The Hour - 7/18/2009
Like many other Americans, young and old, John Reznikoff was glued to the television on July 20, 1969, as astronaut Neil Amstrong took "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" by walking on the moon. "I remember vividly watching it on TV. I was 9-years-old," Reznikoff said. "It was an amazing moment and one that I always will remember when you talk about wild-eyed boys that want to be astronauts." Forty years later, Reznikoff is owner of University Archives, a Westport business that collects and sells memorabilia from famous people. Or, as Reznikoff puts it, "everything from George Washington to Marilyn Monroe." And that includes items from Armstrong, 'Buzz' Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins -- the crew of Apollo 11. University Archives has a lock of Armstrong's hair and the scissors and comb used by the barber to cut it; an autographed photograph of Armstrong; stamps and postcards autographed by the astronauts; autographed copies of "Reaching for the Moon" by Aldrin; a plaque issued by President Richard M. Nixon honoring the three astronauts; and Aldrin's space suit from the Apollo 11 mission. Add to that a piece of Kapton foil, which protected the lunar craft from the heat of re-entry into the earth's atmosphere; a photograph of the first footstep on the moon; and signed insurance policies, so to speak, for the three astronauts. Reznikoff said the astronauts couldn't get insurance for the moon shot, as it was "something that's never happened before." Instead, the astronauts signed several hundred envelopes, which later could be sold as collectors' items, if the astronauts died on the mission. The proceeds would have gone to support the astronauts' families, according to Reznikoff. For the Perkin Elmer Corp., based in Norwalk at the time, the space missions and moon shot were heady days. The company manufactured optical equipment for, among other things, the Hubble Space Telescope, and had 16 plants and offices along the Route 7 corridor, from Norwalk to Danbury. The company's major projects ranged from missile and satellite tracking cameras to satellite instrumentation, balloon-borne telescopes and critical components of the Hubble Space Telescope, according to Donald Mahon, retired manager of corporation communications for Perkin-Elmer and a member of its retiree club. "Perkin-Elmer fabricated the specially coated visors for the Apollo 11 astronauts to protect them while on the surface of the moon. These are evident in the famous photographs of the astronauts during their moon walks," Mahon said. "Perkin-Elmer also produced a dozen special prisms mounted on a large optical screen that the Apollo 11 astronauts placed on the surface of the moon. It was used to measure the precise distance between earth and moon." The Apollo 11 mission captured the imagination of an entire generations of Americans who grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. Frank N. Zullo, Norwalk mayor at the time, recalls what prompted the National Aeronautics and Space Administration effort to land a man on the moon. In a word, it was "Sputnik" -- the Russian satellite launched in October 1957 at the height of the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. "The Russians had put Sputnik up and (President John F. Kennedy) was determined to show that we still were the ones with the greatest abilities in that area," Zullo said. Apollo 11 "was a very significant accomplishment, but it also made it unequivocally clear that we could not only match the Russians in this area but exceed their efforts."