Neil Armstrong died this past week. For those of you who are too young to remember or not a trivia, history or space wonk, he’s the first guy who walked on the moon. For those of us who are older, you probably spent at least a minute or two over the past week reflecting on this historic moment.
As you remembered, my guess is that you smiled and a row of goose bumps shot up the base of your neck like the launch itself. As I reminisced, I realized that nothing to that point in my life had been cooler. With rare exception, few things have yet to top this amazing feat. Sure, the Mars Rover landing of a few weeks ago is pretty cool, but a man on the moon is really a “top-drawer” feat.
Daydreams for boys who grow up to be men might be different now. But, I still get lost in the ones about cowboys riding the plains in constant danger as they search for their next destination with nothing but the stars as their guide. And I drift off into the world of Lewis & Clark, or countless other explorers all risking their lives for the next great discovery of their generation. And then I think of Apollo 11, an engineering feat like no other at that time. Think about it! Neil Armstrong, the first of a very exclusive club of 12 men to set foot on the moon, blazing a trail without any certainty of returning.
Discoveries today are too often inside a sterile lab in a corporate headquarters somewhere with hopes of translating one’s good works into billions of dollars in sales. Sure, video game technologies and advances in electronics are cool. Honestly, I never thought I’d use my phone to pay for a cup of coffee. But, going to the moon for real – not on an iPad – WOW!!!
Pioneers, of any sort, navigate places no one else has been. But, few have left Mother Earth without any guarantee of returning. I can only imagine that, under such circumstances, one’s mortality must move to an ever-present state of mind. Or is it the opposite? With a humbling sense of confidence and without being cavalier, these men of great character and unparalleled leadership gain an understanding of the risk, tuck it away where it was not a distraction, and let courage reign supreme. Nevertheless, kissing your family good-bye without certainty of ever seeing them again is a pretty daunting task.
How dangerous was the trip? How likely was it that the Lunar Module would not jettison from the moon to reconnect with the mother ship? Richard Nixon was President. William Safire was the speechwriter. And the following was never read from the Oval Office. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin returned from the moon. Had they not, you would have heard this:
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice. These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.
They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.
In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one: in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.
In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.
Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.
For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.
May this great American hero rest in peace. Godspeed, my man. Godspeed.