One Altoona resident has multiple reasons to reminisce about the moon landing 50 years ago this month — he supervised the manufacturing of electrical components potentially on Apollo 11 and his niece married into Neil Armstrong’s family.
Thomas Jerry Ricketts, 72, formerly of Coalport, treasures the black and white Kodak images he took of his TV screen during the moon walk in 1969. They’re even more precious to him because Neil Armstrong autographed them — something the late astronaut rarely did.
While Ricketts didn’t attend his niece’s wedding to Rick Armstrong nearly 20 years ago, his daughter Shelli VanOrman met — and danced — with the groom’s father, Neil Armstrong. The bride, Karen McDonald, was raised in Osceola Mills. Health issues prevented Ricketts from attending, but he gave his daughter the photographs hoping she’d get the elder Armstrong’s signature.
McDonald interacted with Neil Armstrong throughout the day and the two shared a“fast dance,”Ricketts said. Near the end of the evening, she asked for the autograph and the former astronaut agreed. Rick and Karen Armstrong divorced about a year ago, Ricketts said, after about 19 years of marriage.
Ricketts rarely takes the cherished photographs out their protective envelope — he limits exposure to light in an effort to preserve the autograph, which he speculates is worth a significant amount of money — given the infrequency with which Armstrong provided autographs. To support this, Ricketts shows a newspaper article from 10 years ago where a check written and signed by Armstrong sold at an online auction for more than $27,000.
Ricketts said he’d consider“serious inquiries”from potential buyers.“I’m willing to sell it now so someone else can enjoy it.”
Ricketts’ other tie to the space program came through his supervisory position at Erie Technological, which had a factory in State College.
The plant supplied NASA with“quite a few”components on Apollo 11. Prior to the historic landing, the company displayed for employees a schematic showing where Erie-made components were located in the craft, Ricketts said.
The filters made by Erie protected against radio frequency interference.
Ricketts doesn’t know for sure if components he“touched”made the trip, but the 50th anniversary reminds him of the role his former company played in keeping the astronauts safe.