Neil Armstrong died over the weekend. He was 82. When he took that famous “one small step,” he was not yet 39 — which shows in his official NASA portrait.
If you haven’t watched it recently, this is a good time to review the video taken at the time. Also, io9 has the text from the Times coverage back in 1969, which is pretty great. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’m not sure we as a species have accomplished ANYTHING even remotely as awesome as this since July 21, 1969.
This is my favorite picture of Mr Armstrong. Buzz Aldrin took it, after Armstrong had come in from the most significant walk in the history of mankind. You can see the gravity of the moment in his eyes.
Here’s the thing: Armstrong then mostly eschewed the spotlight, and never did anything to sully the accomplishment or what it meant for the space program, for the US, or for humans in general. He was, by all accounts, an unassuming and humble man who understood what he had been a part of in the larger, human sense despite (as is and was obvious) the Cold War aspects of the space race. In an age of serious term dilution, this was a guy who really was a hero.
There’s lots of grreat stuff in the Metafilter thread, which includes a pointer to The Big Picture feature on Apollo 11 from the 40th anniversary a few years ago. (Also noted in that thread: Charles Lindbergh knew both Armstrong and Orville Wright.)
And here’s the other thing. It’s awful that Armstrong has died without seeing another serious move in space in 40 years. We quit in 1972. Nobody’s been out of low earth orbit since, and that means — as XKCD points out — that we are quickly running out of people who’ve walked on other worlds.
This is shameful, and we should fix it.
Good Lord, there were only 12 to start with, and only 8 survive. (The youngest of these giants is the sprightly 76-year-old Charles Duke.) Perhaps, when someday we manage to escape low earth orbit again, someone can do for Armstrong and Aldrin what those great me did for Yuri Gagarin. The notion that these 8 may die without seeing us exceed their journey is the worst sort of anti-tribute.
Finally, here is a statement from the Armstrong family, which concludes with
For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.
PS: Another Neil has a nice blog entry on the subject.