Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Neil Armstrong, you inspired us all, and we will miss you

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

— John F. Kennedy, May 25, 1961, “Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs”

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

— John F. Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1962, Rice University, Houston

“Christopher Columbus, Charles Lindbergh, and Neil Armstrong. Ha, ha, ha. Neil Armstrong! From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.”

— Jim Lovell, Gemini 7, Gemini 12, Apollo 8 and Apollo 13

I had just got home from shopping at Publix, with my mind full of things like Tropical Storm Isaac and more, when I checked Facebook and saw the little note from a former news colleague: “RIP Neil Armstrong.”

Oh, no, I thought, not Neil. Not the man whose steady hand guided the Lunar Module Eagle to the Sea of Tranquility, while Buzz Aldrin called out the numbers and Charlie Duke, 240,000 miles away in Mission Control, reminded them that they had 30 seconds of fuel left.

Neil Armstrong was a ghostly image on the TV screen that night in July 1969, as he and Aldrin bounced on the moon, planted the flag, read the plaque, received the president’s thanks and then got to work on the surface of another world. For eons, the moon had been up there, tantalizingly close but out of reach. But technology, the genius of so many people on earth and that desire to reach beyond ourselves had finally done it. Human beings were on the moon.

And Neil Armstrong has written his name into the history books. He was the first of a group of men so astoundingly brave that I wish every one of them had even the slightest idea how much I respect them; hell, love them, for what they did. They were all pioneers, the first to, go to the moon.

In his work “Somnium,” (“The Dream”), Johannes Kepler wrote a science fiction tale of people who go to the moon aboard ships, as Carl Sagan said, “with sails adapted to the breezes of heaven,” and carrying “men who would not fear the darkness.”

Neil Armstrong did not fear the darkness. Buzz Aldrin did not fear the darkness. Michael Collins did not fear the darkness. All those men who climbed into the Apollo command modules – even for the missions that didn’t land on the moon – did not fear the darkness. They risked their precious lives so we would become more aware of the universe. They gave us this gift, and I for one appreciate that gift every time I take out my telescope and look at the moon.

He was a private man. A quiet man. He didn’t want fame, but he had it. People wanted to see him, touch him, talk to him, hear what he had to say. He had done it. He had walked on the moon.

So did others, more open and more eager to share the wonders. Men like Buzz Aldrin, who I had the honor of meeting in 1989. Men like Apollo 14 astronaut Ed Mitchell, who I met and interviewed in 2007. They wanted to spread the word. The moon was a place, and they’d been there. Dream big, dream of space, make it happen.

In December 1972, men walked on the moon for the last time. Apollo 17 was a triumphant mission, with Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmidt spending nearly three days in the Taurus-Littrow region of that battered old moon, driving around and bringing back samples of the surface, and a ton of photos and films. We’ve never sent people back. It’s a shame.

But forget that, I just want to remember and celebrate the man who, by sheer good fortune, a vast amount of skill, a stupendous amount of learning and brilliance, and more, was the first man to walk on the moon.

We’ve lost a great hero today, and so has his family.

Tonight, if the moon makes it through the clouds over Florida, I’ll be sure to look up and think of Neil Armstrong. He took the steps we all wish we could take. Farewell, star voyager.


August 25, 2012 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, Observations with Vinny | , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. We should all learn by his example to not fear the darkness. Very nice essay.

    Comment by Diana in NYC | August 27, 2012 | Reply

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