In 1961, President John Kennedy delivered a challenge to the nation: put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. On July 20, 1969, Neal Armstrong became that man as he stepped onto the surface of the moon. Armstrong died today, at the age of 82, of complications from “cardiovascular procedures”, likely related to his heart surgery weeks ago. We remember him today as a hero, who took the stick of the lunar lander and brought the craft to a safe landing after the on-board computer picked a boulder-strewn field in which to land, but he was a great deal more than that. He was a superlative pilot who spent years testing aircraft and may have saved the entire space program during the Gemini 8 flight. He was also an Alpha Geek who eschewed the spotlight and simply did brilliant, diligent work. He once told the National Press Club, “I am, and ever will be, a white-sock, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer…and I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession”.
I think we’ve largely forgotten how momentous the lunar landing was. Take a look at this video and watch how choked up Walter Cronkite got at the moment Armstrong says “Houston. Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed” (the 1:45 mark)
“Oh, boy”, indeed. Just after that, you’ll hear Armstrong tell Houston how he had to take manual control of the craft in order to land it safely. That’s Big Damn Heroes stuff right there.
Twitter has a couple of mighty fine tributes to Armstrong this afternoon. I wanted to share two of the best with you.
Neil Armstrong, RIP. He embodied the American virtues of courage, modesty, and excellence at his craft. Godspeed.
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) August 25, 2012
I’d be in favor of a state funeral for the first person to set foot on another rock in space.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) August 25, 2012
His family released a statement this afternoon. I think their closing request is a good one for all of us to honor.
For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.
Godspeed, Mr. Armstrong.