25 August 2012

Farewell Neil Armstrong

I'm not sure I remembered the actual moon landing on July 20, 1969. But I know what was wrought that day.

Sadly, that July 20th was remember as the year anniversary of my dad's death. I had a lot of emotional issues dealing with that passing. Most, if not all, is buried somewhere in my brain, hidden away to be forgotten. I was 6, that July (two months shy of good old number 7). And while most kids can remember some their years before their first decade, mine is lost. I have bits, some flashes of those years, yet most of the time I consider them unreliable. Much of my dad's life before my birth and up to the time he died have been recounted to me many times by my Mom and my Uncle Harold (who is not my real uncle, but I've known him all my life). I'm not sure what is mine and what is their stories.

So is with Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong's steps on the moon. My older brother was obsessed with the Apollo stuff and kept a scrap book of newspaper clippings. I remember that because he kept it for such a long time, well into his teens. I'm not sure if he took it when he moved out, or whether it's still somewhere in my Mom's attic. Still, that scrap book was a great reminder of time, sadly, now long gone.

History shows that the moon landing was -mostly- a race to beat the Russians to that celestial place. And after the murder of President Kennedy, who supported the notion of going there, it became the goal of keeping a dream alive. Sure, all those people who strapped rockets to their backs in preparation for it were adrenaline junkies, but they were also smart. They had the sense of adventure and knew what they were doing could kill them. It was that fear, in many ways, was why they did it.

And for the generations of boys and girls who watched Armstrong step on the moon and proclaim that this was "One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind" he help ignite the fire of science, discovery and wonder that helped land the Rover Curiosity on Mars on August 5.

But Armstrong, despite his place in history, was until his death today at the age of 82, an intensely private man. “I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer,” he said in February 2000 in one of his rare public appearances. “And I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.”

Whether he was comfortable with his legacy or not Armstrong, and the others that went to the stars on the idea that this final frontier was worth it, will be longed remember for that historic landing on July 20, 1969.

I remember what the hopes of nation were some fifty years ago when President Kennedy proposed the moon mission: "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"

We've lost a lot of that spirit since then. And even today, with no planned manned missions in the near future, we seem now more than ever land locked to this blue ball. But some 43 years ago, we came together as nation to watch Neil Armstrong step on the Moon. He'll never be forgotten, even a 100 years from now, he'll be remembered as the man who set us on the path to stars.

And when the space missions come back -as they are  bound to do- we'll sit here watching -maybe on a starship called the Armstrong, and asking course directions. And the astronaut shall say:

"Out there. Thataway."

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