Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Neil Armstrong: Flag at Half-Staff


For the past three days, I've been trying to collect and articulate my thoughts about the passing of Neil Armstrong, but it just seems overwhelming.

In many ways, there is far too much to say, far too many things to list about this amazing explorer. In another way, there is nothing to say. Neil, as an Earthling, was known by all of humanity, regardless of borders; no writer need memorialize his accomplishments in the same way we craft other obituaries.

American flag at half staff for Neil Armstrong

My cousin has an 11-year-old son. Just out of curiosity, I asked him, "Do you know who Neil Armstrong is?" The response was immediate: "Astronaut guy!" And while he didn't know Neil's test pilot and Gemini mission details, the basics were clearly universal. Moonwalker.

Nice. But, not enough. Will upcoming generations care about the moon the way we did, those of us who watched Apollo missions with our own eyes?

The moon has a long, beautiful legacy of mystery... thousands of years' worth, in fact. Neil was the man who cleared everything up for the human species, after centuries of observation, speculation, deduction and downright wild guesses.

Greek Philosopher Anaxagoras
"Everything has a natural explanation.
The moon is not a god, but a great rock, and
the sun a hot rock." – Anaxagoras, 433 BC

Anaxagoras was right, but Neil was the one who proved it. Would they step onto the surface and sink up to their waists in moon dust? Would the space suits hold up? No one knew. Would they crash? Would they be able to return?

Richard Nixon famously had two speeches at the ready, one in case Neil landed safely, and one in case of disaster, whereby he and Buzz might be marooned on our pearly satellite.

Astronauts of the early era were the "Right Stuff" test pilot crowd, the swaggering risk-takers who were courageous (cough*cough*CRAZY*cough) enough to head into the unknown. Neil was first because he deserved to be first.

Neil Armstrong's Hometown Newspaper
Armstrong's Hometown Newspaper in Ohio

Sadly, he is the fourth moonwalker to leave us. There are eight left, and the youngest of them is 76 years old. We may not see press ripples like this one until the last is gone, but I'm sure not looking forward to the dominoes falling.

Sorry to be so sad today, and I thank all the readers here and followers on Facebook and Twitter who have shared stories and commiserated with this great loss for our entire planet.