“Reviewing all these thoughts, I knew what to do about Armstrong, this intensely private man who’s worn his special place in out mythology of ourselves with such dignity, who’s had the decency not to crowd our imaginations or diminish our fantasies by fixing them with words he struggles to find. Who’s refused to auction himself to our idolatry or give in and tell us what we want to hear; who sees the worst of us, but still allows us to look at him and see the best of ourselves.” (Moondust, p. 342)
Nothing I have ever learned has inspired me as much as the knowledge that NASA sent astronauts to the lunar surface 6 times between 1969 and 1972. Looking up at the moon and pondering life’s deepest mysteries must be a pastime that stretches back even further than the dawn of man. Only 12 people have stood on the moon looking back to think about the same questions. On Saturday, August 25, the first person to do so left this world for good, dying at age 82.
I like to think that I am not the only person who is so inspired by manned spaceflight. And while I consider myself lucky to have coexisted on this planet for some time with the Apollo astronauts, I despair to think that nobody has gone back since. I truly do feel that I see the best of humanity when I think about what these men accomplished.
Of course, the astronauts stood at the pinnacle of an enormous project to get them to the moon. From hundreds of thousands of skilled workers and engineers building the rockets and equipment, to the millions of Americans who payed for it; there’s the billions of people whose baited breath was held at the moment, and the avionics pioneers who first taught man how to leave the ground. The mission was born from the pressure that the Soviet cosmonauts put under the Americans, and the legacy of exploration that humanity as a species has bequeathed to modernity.
The fallout of this amazing project was not only inspiration - it was a booming economy full of great jobs for educated college graduates, a bounty of inventions that helped here on Earth. Perhaps most profoundly, the Apollo program left the world with the notion that the atomic era was not destined to end in nuclear winter - with the possibility that better uses for our ingenuity were possible.
If Neil Armstrong taught us anything, let it be to have the courage to dream again. To leave behind our self-centered banter about the future and to focus on leaving a legacy that our children should be proud of.