Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong

Do you ever wonder if anyone will know your name after your last grandchild dies?  

How many names do we know from a five hundred years ago?  From a thousand?

Is there anyone who lived in our time whose name will be known in five hundred or a thousand years?

I think the only one I can say with certainty who will be still known is Neil Armstrong, who died today at 82 years old.

It won't be because he was the first on the moon, but the first human to stand on any body other than Earth.  

Certainly he did not do it alone.  It took the efforts of tens of thousands engineers, builders, and other astronauts, plus the political will and taxes of a nation.
Hopefully, Armstrong's achievement will seem quaint in the light of explorations that will occur in the next thousand years.  But just as every intercontinental airline passenger owes a debt to Magellan, who did not even survive the voyage he is acclaimed for, Armstrong will represent the first step for all who travel away from Earth in the future.

Armstrong is our Magellan, our Columbus, our Cook.  I proudly bask in the unearned glow from simply having lived at the same time as him, and understanding some of what he represents.  

I have heard only one bad thing about him.  Apparently in early mission plans, it was Aldrin that was supposed to be first out the door.  Armstrong, as Mission Commander, reportedly pulled rank.  The lesson there though is that you do not get to be the best of the best at what you do, as Aldrin was, and Armstrong was just a tiny bit more (he was after all, named Mission Commander) without advocating for yourself.

He did a job, with extreme competency (do you know how little fuel was left at touchdown?), bravery, and resolve.  Then he went home.  He never lived on his fame; something almost in congruent in today's media/celebrity obsessed world.  

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