Recently, we heard the sad news that Neil Armstrong had passed away. I didn’t blog my response to this as I wanted my own thoughts and emotions to sort themselves out given he meant so much to me personally, a man that I had never met in person. This was an American Navy fighter pilot, test pilot, astronaut, Moon walker, hero, teacher, accident investigator, pioneer, aerospace engineer, Administrator, Business Director, father and husband, a great human being. How can one person have so many titles? His achievements are best exemplified of course in that period of 1969, when suspended in a sunbeams shadow, he walked across the sea of tranquillity with his good friend Edwin Eugene ‘Buzz’ Aldrin.
The Armstrong family released a wonderful statement to honour Neil which is worth repeating over and over again, because it is so nice:
“He was a reluctant hero [who] served his nation proudly as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot and astronaut. While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves”.
The statement continued:
“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”.
Indeed, he served as an example to me and made me believe I could accomplish my dreams through hard work, no matter the odds. As a young man, I was moved and inspired by the accomplishments of Project Apollo and the wonderful speech of President John F Kennedy. I saw a museum exhibit on Project Apollo in North England, which had a profound and ever lasting effect on me personally, equivalent to a spiritual experience. Neil Armstrong was a great symbol of those achievements and every young person, including me, wanted to be just like him. Yes it is sad he is now departed from this world, but I choose to celebrate his life and what he accomplished for both his country and the planet. If we achieve only 10% of what he did in his lifetime, we would be so lucky.
Since his passing, many others have written about his accomplishments, but I especially like the comment from the Centauri Dreams blog writer Paul Gilster:
“None of us can know how anyone else approaches death, but we are all creatures of bone, sinew and nerve and we live that truest part of our lives in the kind of deep emotional privacy that Neil Armstrong came to exemplify. This quietly dignified man vaulted into prominence only to remind us that great achievement does not have to walk hand in hand with ego. Indeed, Armstrong’s legacy will couple the Sea of Tranquillity with the collected bearing of an individual who never elevated himself over others, whose gift of focused passion offers deep truths in the meaning of courage and character”.
In thousands of years from now, I am certain that human beings will be settled on the surface of the red planet Mars. We will have colonies living around the Moons of the Gas Giants. Perhaps we will have people exploring the planets and systems of other stars all together – the first starmen. But in all the ages of humans, no matter our accomplishments, people will look back on the twentieth century as largely an American century and this will be epitomised more than anything by the phrase “that is when Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon”. Armstrong did not seek this fame, and the evidence is that he distanced himself from it. But therein lays the irony, the man who would not seek fame, achieves for all purposes infinite fame. Those among us who seek fame today, will not likely be remembered past a decade. There is an important lesson in there for us all, to value what really matters in life. By taking that one small step, Armstrong helped to teach us about ourselves in the way he walked through life after the event, to develop our moral character, and perhaps we as a society can take a bigger step towards greater maturity. Only then, will we be ready to embark on the great journey beyond the edge of our solar system that yet awaits us.