Armstrong’s best friend to speak at museum’s 50th anniversary

WAPAKONETA – From camping in the same cabin at Camp Owens in Marion and earning Scout merit badges together to Neil Armstrong having a heart attack on the slopes of a Colorado ski resort, Konstantine “Kotcho” (KK) Solacoff was probably the lifelong best friend of the first man to set foot on the moon.

Solacoff will be in Wapakoneta Monday night as a special guest for a talk on Armstrong’s childhood given by Armstrong biographer James R. Hansen. Solacoff shared memories — some mentioned in Hansen’s book “First Man” and some not — in a phone interview Sunday night.

Armstrong “always talked about becoming an aeronautical engineer,” he said. “At the time, the war was almost over. We discovered different planes, American and German. In case they invaded the United States, we would be able to track which plane was up there. But Neil was very, very interested in aeronautics. He had all these different aeronautical journals, and he built all kinds of little balsa wood planes that you put a rubber band around the propeller. He worked at the local cemetery for 10 cents an hour mowing the lawn. But he would make money to buy model airplanes that cost about a quarter, which was a lot of money in the 1940s. He built many, many of them.

Armstrong never talked about wanting to become a pilot at that time or going into the military.

Armstrong also didn’t want to become an astronaut at first. According to Solacoff, Armstrong rejected the astronaut application sent to him by NASA for the Mercury program: “He turned them down because he was so in love with the Dyna-Soar”, which was a prototype space plane. . Like other pilots who had joined the Mercury program (as described in “The Right Stuff”), Neil was unimpressed that the astronauts looked more like passengers in a capsule than pilots, said said Solacoff.

When it came time to make the “First Man” movie, Solacoff met Ryan Gosling and Damian Chazelle and spent the day with them in Wapakoneta. He said he was asked all kinds of detailed and specific questions about Armstrong, the kind of questions that might help them fully understand Armstrong’s ways. For example, did he cross his right leg over his left, or his left over his right, or with both feet on the ground? When he got up, did he put his hand on his hip?

Solacoff will share more memories with James R. Hansen, the authorized biographer of Neil Armstrong’s life for “First Man,” beginning at 7 p.m. Monday at the Wapakoneta Middle School Auditorium, 400 W. Harrison St., Wapakoneta. The event is part of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Armstrong Air & Space Museum.

Neil Armstrong, right, salutes during a parade in his honor on September 6, 1969, after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in July of that year.

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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