The news that one of America’s great true heroes has died hits hard, especially for the Baby Boomer generation. Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, died at age 82 yesterday. In a world of make believe superheroes and glam celebrities, the passing of real courage and humility is truly noted.
Not many now will remember what technology, TV, America, or the world was like in 1969. Back then the phrase “the sky is the limit” really rang true. Americans believed in the promise of dead presidents, of putting a man on the moon. If you can imagine putting a man on another asteroid via a tin can atop a Wernher von Braun gigantic missile, the valor or Armstrong and his fellow NASA astronauts can better be assessed.
“One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” the statement Armstrong uttered from within his clumsy white spacesuit on our moon, will echo throughout eternity, really. Those NASA astronaughts did not just fly to the moon, conveniently land there, and beam back up to starship Enterprise, which was by the way super popular on TV back then, they were essentially strapped to ACME rockets and shot into space. In 1969, mind you, ideas of safe cars consisted of 4500 pound hunks of steel headlong racing at one another, phone technology was just a moment passed two tin cans and some string, and every pro basketball player worse canvas Converse All Stars. The moon was as impossible as you can envision.
What made Neil Armstrong so special though was not heroic deeds in space, it was his humility, genuineness, and his class. There are not many like Neil Armstrong today, maybe not even one. Imagine the magnitude of that one small step, just for a minute. Sit there at your screen and reflect on being humanity’s Columbus. Sit silently, just a few seconds.
I was 13, living outside Orlando when Apollo 11 launched. I vividly remember everyone standing on our street, gazing collectively to the East, to catch a glimpse of the rocket’s liftoff, some 50 miles distant at Cape Canaveral. Yes, you could see the rocket flame that far off, that high up above our heads. Three men strapped side by side in a tiny command module, their teeth rattling and organs mashing beneath the magnitude of man’s most powerful creation ever, the Saturn V Rocket. 7,648,000 pounds of thrust (First Stage) sent those men and 6,200,000 pounds of man made wires and metal Road Runner and Coyote screaming into space. It was something, let me tell you.
Huddled about our TV sets a few days later, all America watching in some kind of strange afterglow as a bug looking spider thingy touched down on that hunk of cheese with the face in it up there. Our flag, the American flag, plopped into place on an alien world. After the show we all piled into the our brother’s Pontiac (commercial below) or Olds and sped to McDonald’s for a 10 cent burger, a nickel coke, and some 10 cent fries.
Armstrong and shipmate astronaut Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the moon that day. They collected some rock samples, performed some experiments, took photos, and no doubt felt more strange than any human being before ever had. Characteristically, like many true heroes, Armstrong never took any overzealous joy in relating his exploits. He opted for teaching at at the University of Cincinnati.
You had to be a kid back then, that is if you loved adventure space and the final frontier sort of thing. Armstrong was a poster child for everything we found exciting then. Korean War combat pilot, X-15 test pilot, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, and the first to set foot on the Moon, Armstrong represented the best America, nay humankind had to offer the world he represented. He will be missed and forever underestimated as to his real contribution to our collective history.
God Bless and Rest you Neil Armstrong, hero of man.
NASA shot men to the moon, just as Hollywood made the following real world commercials.