America lost our greatest hero last month! Neil Armstrong will go down in the history books as our first cosmic explorer. He was the first to leave our comfortable planet in the name of exploration so that he would be the first human being and American to place a footprint onto the surface of Earth’s only Moon. This was America’s and the world’s greatest technical achievement of that 1969 era, and some argue that it still leads all technical accomplishments today.
Neither President Kennedy nor any of us had any precedent or technical reason to believe that America was ready to leave Earth’s orbit with precious human cargo, let alone take a person to the Moon and land him softly onto the lunar surface and then within three days, send him back to Earth where he would come racing towards Earth in an engulfing fireball at 25,000 miles per hour followed by a successful parachute deployment and ocean landing and capsule/astronaut retrieval. Keep in mind that no precursor unmanned missions had occurred, and we did not know how the rocket and complex systems would work. It is an amazingly complex machine.
A friend of mine best described it: “It is not that complicated if you break it down, it is just millions of uncomplicated things that have to work perfectly as a whole!” Anyway, that is what three amazing American heroes decided to sit on top of with over 6 million pounds of highly explosive rocket fuel. As it would turn out, things did not work perfectly for all six Apollo Moon landings, but they worked well enough to allow 12 Americans to walk, run, drive, and even hit a golf ball on the Moon. That journey turned out to be an incredible moving experience for Neil, and he would not come back to Earth the same.
It was expected that all Apollo astronauts would serve their country by going to the Moon, come home for a hero’s welcome, and then continue to serve and inspire those who would follow. Being the first man to ever walk on the Moon was as big as it gets in the 20th century, and the aftermath would have fed the egos of most men. This was not the case with Neil; he became the silent hero and was humble and honored to have been serving our nation. I had the opportunity to meet Neil and actually talk to him for a brief period. He was definitely a humble man, and I was blown away considering whose hand I was shaking and the contribution he made to our country and so many of us!
Godspeed, Neil Armstrong! You will be missed!