Monday, August 27, 2012

Neil Armstrong

Heard over the weekend that another great man has left us, that being Neil Armstrong.  I had the pleasure of spending the past couple of hours reading up on his life, death, as well as seeing a few video clips.  I didn't really know all that much about him prior to reading these articles, other than what most people know, but I came away with even more respect for the man.  I don't know if it was him in particular, or if it was just how people carried themselves back in that time, but I was in awe reading of how he faded back into a nearly obscure life after being the first man to be on the moon.  That is a rarity in the times that I live in.  Most people, who are able to achieve fame via means much less dignified and honorable than Mr. Armstrong did, are more than eager to pimp themselves out to any corporation willing to pay for their commercial services.  Armstrong frequently denied those opportunities (with the exception of doing several commercials for Chrysler back in the late 70's, when they were experiencing financial difficulties; Armstrong said that he did it for their contributions to aeronautics and that they were an American company, and I actually do not doubt him).

Also, being modest, quiet and hard-working was actually recognized and lauded back in those days.  In one of the articles I read, one of the reasons why Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon rather than Buzz Aldrin, is that Aldrin was known for being a blowhard and very ambitious, making it known within NASA that he should be the first man on the moon.  Meanwhile, Armstrong thought that descending and landing on the moon, not walking the moon, was the most important part of the mission.  NASA went with Armstrong.  Afterwards, as I said, Armstrong quietly retired to his farm, and a professorship at a university in Ohio.  He never quite faded into obscurity; he was on several important committees, including the one formed to investigate the Challenger disaster in 1986.  But he never seemed to profit from his exploits as a test pilot or as the first man on the moon.  I read that it was impossible to obtain his autograph, out of his fear that it would be sold for profit.  Meanwhile, I've seen Aldrin plenty of times over the years, and he has written several books, while Armstrong never wrote a memoir.

Finally, I feel that his death is tragic, in light of the gutting of NASA that has been taking place for some time. It doesn't appear likely that Americans will be walking the moon again, and many would say that walking the moon was our last great achievement.  Every generation seems to have that one defining moment, that one time in history where everyone knows where they were and what they were doing.  For that generation, it was Armstrong being the first man on the moon.  For my generation, it was 9/11.  Pretty telling of where we were as a country then and where we are now.

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