PLATTSBURGH — Fifty years ago today, it was one small step for man, but one giant leap for the tens of thousands of people who contributed to the first lunar landing.

One of those people was local Richard Calma’s father, Calogero.

In the mid-1960s, Calogero Calma was hired by the Grumman Aerospace Corporation, a company that Richard said treated his family, and the families of other employees, very well.

“It was a wonderful company to work for,” Richard, 66, said. “They held field days for families; every Thanksgiving we got a turkey.”

THE HOBBY PHOTOGRAPHER

Calogero started off as a metallurgist at the company, based on Long Island, testing different metals to see what might make them fail.

It was once the company signed on as the main contractor to build the Apollo Lunar Modules that they gave Calogero, a hobby photographer, the job of photo coordinator for the lunar module project.

“Everytime they were working on the lunar module, putting parts on or moving a section, they wanted documentation,” Richard said. “They even would take close-up photos so if it was damaged when it got to where it needed to be, they’d be able to say it didn’t happen at the plant.”

'UNITED THE COUNTRY'

Richard, who was 16 at the time of the first landing, was a big astronaut enthusiast, having followed the space race from the beginning.

“It was the culmination of the dream,” Richard said. “This was something that united the country, at least for a couple weeks.”

His father’s job only helped fuel that interest, and Calogero was even able to bring Richard in to Grumman’s Bethpage, Long Island, location to see engineers working on a module.

“It was a civilian program, so nothing was really too top secret,” Richard said.

Calogero even brought home samples of the metal that Grumman used to make the walls of the module, which Richard described to be about as thick as the lid of a can of cat food.

'THEY MADE IT'

As the weeks got closer to launch day for the mission that brought the first men to the moon, Richard’s interest only grew, with him even using a reel-to-reel tape recorder to record the nightly newscasts.

Once landing day came around, it was no different.

“My parents and brothers were downstairs, I was upstairs with my TV with a tape recorder going,” Richard said. “When they landed, I yelled, ‘They made it,’ and everyone downstairs was yelling too. It’s like, ‘We did it.’ I said, ‘Pop, your work; you guys put them on the moon.’”

Now, 50 years later, Richard and his family has a collection of photos and artifacts from the time, thanks to Calogero.

“When the space program ended with Apollo 17, they didn’t need anything anymore,” Richard said. “My dad climbed in the dumpster and grabbed piles of things they were throwing out.”

WHO ELSE BUT NEIL

And while he didn’t meet him during his time at Grumman, Richard said that Calogero did get a chance to talk to the first man to walk on the moon.

After Grumman, Calogero moved to Cincinnati to work as a silicone polishing engineer at a company called Cincinnati Milacron.

While in Cincinnati, Richard said, Calogero made friends with the owner of a movie theater, where he would occasionally help work the ticket counter.

One day at the theater, he looked up and saw who else but Neil Armstrong and proceeded to talk with him about the Apollo program for almost an hour.

“And Neil said, ‘Thanks for helping us get there.’”

Email Ben Watson:

bwatson@pressrepublican.com