NBC News reports that astronaut and icon Neil Armstrong passed away earlier today due to complications from a heart-bypass operation he underwent a few weeks ago. He was 82.
Though his merits are many, Armstrong is best known for one thing. On that fateful day back in July 1969, with the eyes of history watching, he clambered down the ladder on the front leg of the Lunar Module “Eagle” to become the first man to set foot on the Moon.
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” he said. Though Apollo 11 was his first and only Moon mission, the events of that day and those words would follow him for the rest of this life.
In that moment, Armstrong became more than just a man — he became a symbol of ingenuity and the drive of the human race. He, along with Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin, proved to half a billion people back on earth (and countless others in the years to come) that the potential for mankind to reach for ever-higher heights was perhaps limitless.
A piece like this may seem a bit out of place on a site like TechCrunch, but the amazing technical achievements that went into putting not only Armstrong, but Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Al Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, Dave Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt on the moon can’t be overlooked. There’s no shortage of devices and productsthat were born from space age innovations, but perhaps more importantly, walking on the Moon inspired a generation of people to pursue engineering and the sciences.
And Armstrong was first. Of his brief time spent exploring the surface of another heavenly body, Armstrong had this to say:
“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”
You may have felt small, Mr. Armstrong, but rest assured — you were a giant to the rest of us. Godspeed.
Dave “Thirdwavedave” Logan was a big supporter of our nation’s space program and wrote several pieces about the moon missions.
Here’s his most recent, written just over a year ago.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 20, 2011
JULY 20, 1969: AMERICANS WALK ON THE MOON
Doesn’t quite seem possible, but it’s been 42 years since man first walked on the moon. A technological feat so awesome that I doubt it will ever be surpassed. It’s one of those few “Where were you?” moments that happens in life.
Each year I try to honor the day. It’s usually a proud and happy day but this year it feels different: It’s a sad day since it marks the highest point in American manned space flight, and tomorrow the American manned space flight program comes to an end when Atlantis rolls to a stop on a Florida runway. Technically, NASA will still have a manned program, just no vehicle to carry American astronauts into space. If that’s our goal, we’ll be paying the Russians for a seat on one of their rockets. Like I said, it’s a sad day.
The journey to have Americans walk on the moon didn’t begin on July 20th, 1969, when Armstrong opened the Eagle’s hatch; it began with John Kennedy setting a goal for America back in the early 1960s. JFK didn’t live to see the day nor did his brother Robert. Brother Ted was otherwise preoccupied, securing a good legal defense team.
On the morning of July 16th, 1969, Apollo 11 sat atop the towering Atlas V rocket on launch pad 39-A. The Florida weather was in a cooperative mood. The goal of the mission was simply stated: send a man to the moon and return him safely. Buzz Aldrin recalls the moments just before being strapped in for launch:
“While Mike and Neil were going through the complicated business of being strapped in and connected to the spacecraft’s life-support system, I waited near the elevator on the floor below. I waited alone for fifteen minutes in a sort of serene limbo. As far as I could see there were people and cars lining the beaches and highways. The surf was just beginning to rise out of an azure-blue ocean. I could see the massiveness of the Saturn V rocket below and the magnificent precision of Apollo above. I savored the wait and marked the minutes in my mind as something I would always want to remember.”
Yes, we will always want to remember. God Bless America.