Goodbye, Mr. Armstrong

I’m attempting to write this blog post while watching episodes of Doctor Who on Netflix.  Along with my recent Doctor Who obsession, I love Star Wars, Star Trek, and Farscape.  I’m also a big fan of written science fiction, especially the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.  The common theme between all of these?  Space.

Space fascinates me.  It is huge.  Mind bogglingly huge.  We’ve looked out into the vast reaches of space and have seen some amazing wonders.  We’ve even sent robots to other planets that send us back photos and data.  However, in the entire history of the human race, only twelve people have ever walked on a world that wasn’t the Earth.  Of these, Neil Armstrong was the first.

I think any geek’s ultimate dream would be to go into space.  To float above the Earth where all of the politics and national conflicts seem so tiny.  To see the stars up close and personal instead of viewing it as it once was* from far away.  To swim through the vast ocean that is the Universe.  To walk on another world.  Neil Armstrong actually did this.  He walked out of Apollo 11 and put his bootprints on another world.

That alone would have been enough for most folks, but it didn’t begin or end there.  Before that, on the Gemini 8, his ship was docked with the Agena when they went into a rapid spin.  Of course, this was highly dangerous.  I wouldn’t have blamed Mr. Armstrong if he panicked.  It would have been very easy too.  But he didn’t.  His cool head and quick thinking saved the people aboard the ship.

Even Apollo 11 was saved thanks to Neil.  He noticed that the ship was headed for an unsafe landing, took manual control, and guided it to a better location.  Again, his quick thinking and action saved lives and made the "one small step" possible.

Finally, he was a humble man.  Most people, having been the first to walk on another world, would have signed book deals, endorsed products, and ridden their fame for the rest of their lives.  Not Neil Armstrong, though.  He did accept a spokesperson gig or two, but mainly preferred to stay out of the spotlight.

Neil Armstrong died and the world lost a great man.  From his accomplishment, eleven other men walked on the Moon, but then it ended.  On December 13th, 1972 – almost 40 years ago – Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan left the Moon and mankind never returned.  I was born in 1975.  In my lifetime, man has been limited to mere low Earth orbit.

If the Universe is a vast ocean, then going to the Moon is splashing our feet up to our ankles on the shore.  It should be the start of more.  Instead, we splashed our feet a bit and then retreated back to dry land.  We need to go back into the ocean again.

I want to see a lunar landing in my lifetime.  The first lunar landing was an amazing event (so I’ve heard).  Imagine what the first one in over forty years would be like.  We could have live HD streams from the moon.   Astronauts could answer questions posed to them from Earth via Twitter.  (Now that would be the Ultimate Twitter Party!)  Yes, science would be done, but the positive PR for space travel alone would be tremendous.

Goodbye, Mr. Armstrong.  You were a hero to us all.  Here’s hoping that someday in the future, we can watch as the next generation of Astronauts follows in your footsteps by leaving their own on the Moon and beyond.


* Light travels fast, but even light has it’s speed limit.  So when an object it very far away from us, the light that is reaching us took a long time to get to us.  Look in the night sky and the stars you see aren’t really there anymore.  They’ve drifted into other positions or perhaps even died out.  The night sky is filled with ghosts of the past.  It’s a real-life time machine, even if you can only look into the past.